The Republic of Nauru is one of the smallest independent, democratic states in the world. It is a republic with a Westminster parliamentary system of government but with a slight variance as the President is both head of government and head of state. The small, isolated, coral capped island is located in the central Pacific Ocean 42km south of the equator and 1287km west of the International Date Line. Ocean Island (part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands) is its nearest neighbour.
Nauru is divided into two plateau areas—“bottom side” a few metres above sea level, and “topside” typically 30 metres higher. The topside area is dominated by pinnacles and outcrops of limestone, the result of nearly a century of mining of the high-grade tricalcic phosphate rock. The bottom side consists of a narrow coastal plain that is 150-300m wide and surrounded by coral reef, which is exposed at low tide and dotted with pinnacles. The bottom side is the residential area for the Nauru populace. The highest point of the island is 65m above sea level.
The climate is equatorial and maritime in nature. There have been no cyclones on record. Although rainfall averages 2,080 mm per year, periodic droughts are a serious problem with only 280 mm of rainfall in the driest year recorded. Land biodiversity is limited, with only 60 species of indigenous vascular plants. A century of mining activity in the interior has resulted in the drainage of large quantities of silt and soil onto the reef, which has greatly reduced the productivity and diversity of reef life. Sewage is dumped into the ocean just beyond the reef, causing further environmental problems, while the island’s many poorly maintained septic tanks have contaminated the groundwater. Access to fresh water is thus a serious problem on Nauru with potable water coming only from rainwater collection and reverse osmosis desalination plants. These desalination plants used around 30 percent of the energy generated by Nauru Utility Corporation (NUC) in 2008.
The main economic sector used to be the mining and export of phosphate, which is now virtually exhausted. The island has been mined extensively in the past for phosphate. Few other resources exist and most necessities are imported from Australia. Small scale subsistence agriculture exists within the island communities.
The local infrastructure, including power generation, drinking water and health services, has been adversely affected in recent years by the decline in income from phosphate mining. However, further explorations of the residual phosphate deposits have raised hopes that there may be potential to continue phosphate mining. With fewer prospects in the phosphate industry, Nauru has to look at other alternative revenue sources to support its economic development. Unfortunately, for a country of the size of Nauru with its limited natural resources, the options are not many.
The Government has prioritized reforms in the electricity and water sectors and in the management of fuel. With the recent adoption of its National Energy Policy, additional legislation will be developed as required to provide a clear and practical path towards sustainable development.