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Official Name - Republic of Nauru (formerly Pleasant Island)
Land Area - 21 sq km - single raised coral atoll
Population - 10,085 (preliminary 2011 census count)
Capital City - No official capital: Government offices in Yaren District
Religion - Christian (two-thirds Protestant, one-third Roman Catholic)
Official Languages - English and Nauruan are both official but only English is written. English is widely understood, spoken, and used for most government and commercial purposes.
Currency - Australian dollar
EEZ - 320,000 sq km
Political system - The country is ruled by a unicameral parliament of 18 members (19 from the next election) elected by popular vote for a term of three years. Executive authority is vested in a Cabinet, which consists of the President of the Republic, and ministers appointed by him. The President is elected by the Parliament. There are 14 Administrative Districts: Aiwo, Anabar, Anetan, Anibare, Baiti, Boe, Buada, Denigomodu, Ewa, Ljuw, Meneng, Nbok, Uaboe, and Yaren.
National legislature - Unicameral parliament of 18 members elected by popular vote for a term of three years
Last election -
Next election - 2013
Head of State - HE President Sprent Dabwido
Head of Government - HE President Sprent Dabwido
Main political parties -
Nauru does not have a formal party structure.
GDP - AUD$ 71.984 million (2010)
GDP per capita - AUD$7,213 (2010)
- USD$100.2 million (2009)
Main Exports - Phosphate, fisheries
Imports - USD$145.1 million (2009)
Main Imports - Fuel; food; manufactured products; building materials; machinery from Australia, UK, NZ, and Japan
NZ Exports (FOB) - NZ$0.513 million (2011)
NZ Imports (CIF) - NZ$7.397 million (2011))
Nauru is the world's smallest independent republic. Nauru's extensive phosphate resources made it one of the wealthiest countries per capita in the world during the 1970s. The readily mined phosphate was gone by the late 1990s and Nauru became heavily indebted and reliant on foreign aid. By 2004 Nauru was in severe financial distress and the Government of Nauru sought and received assistance from the Pacific Islands Forum through the Pacific Regional Assistance to Nauru (PRAN) initiative. Mining of secondary phosphate reserves resumed in 2006 though prices remain volatile. There have been nineteen changes of government in the last ten years.
Little is recorded about Nauru’s history before British whaler Captain John Fearn came across it in 1798 on his way to China and named it Pleasant Island. Whalers, blackbirders, and traders followed and by 1870 firearms, alcohol and introduced diseases had drastically reduced the island’s population. Germany established sovereignty over Nauru in 1888 and in 1914 incorporated it into the German Marshall Islands.
Australia took over the island during the First World War and after the war administered it as a British mandated territory. Japan invaded in 1942 and took over 1200 Nauruans as labour to Truk, where nearly half died.
At the end of WWII the island returned to Australian administration under a United Nations mandate dated 1946. Independence was granted to Nauru by the United Nations on 31 January 1968.
Mining of Nauru’s phosphate deposits began in earnest after the First World War under a combined Australian-New Zealand-British venture, the British Phosphate Commission (BPC). Control of the BPC was handed to Nauru on independence in 1968 and royalties were invested overseas in preparation for when the phosphate ran out. The Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust (NPRT) was set up to invest the profits from the phosphate industry as a source of income for Nauru.
In the late 1980s, Nauru entered an era of budget deficits and the Government borrowed extensively and used trust fund assets as collateral. By 1995, following the collapse of the Bank of Nauru, the country found itself facing a serious financial crisis. Difficulties in servicing interest payments led to further borrowing and indebtedness. Nauru’s overseas investments were heavily mortgaged and there was little ability to pay for infrastructure and basic services.
There have been nineteen changes of government in the last ten years, with changes due mostly to votes of no confidence. Family or clan links play a large part in determining voting on Nauru. Constantly changing allegiances due to the lack of a party system have contributed to political instability.
Nauru was unable to form a government following 2010 elections. With no apparent solution to the political stalemate and little appetite for further elections, caretaker President Marcus Stephen declared a state of emergency in order to ensure the continuation of government services.
The deadlock was finally broken by another election late in 2010 which saw Stephen gain a clear majority and remove the state of emergency.
In November 2011 President Stephen resigned prior to a scheduled motion of no-confidence amid allegations of corruption. Stephen’s successor, Freddie Pitcher lasted just six days in office before a vote of no-confidence saw him replaced by Sprent Dabwido.
In 2012 President Dabwido sought to amend Nauru’s constitution to address his country’s political instability. Proposed reforms included increasing the number of MPs from 18 to 19 to avoid political stalemates, requiring that a Speaker be elected from outside Parliament, the appointment of an Ombudsman, devilment of a code of ethics for MPs, and strengthening of the powers of the Auditor-General. In June 2012 legislation to amend the constitution failed to achieve the requisite two-thirds majority by one vote.
Nauru has made significant progress towards economic recovery since the Pacific Regional Assistance to Nauru (PRAN) was established in 2004, when Pacific Islands Forum Leaders agreed to the Government of Nauru’s request for regional assistance in the face of Nauru’s failing finances and out-of-control debt. In August 2009 Leaders agreed with the Government of Nauru that the PRAN was no longer required, as Nauru had emerged successfully from crisis phase.
Under the PRAN, Nauru had developed its own National Sustainable Development Strategy (NSDS) with the assistance of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, ADB and AusAID and brought in external expertise to assist in key government positions. Improved financial management and public sector reforms instituted by Nauru’s government have been successful in bringing Nauru to a more stable and sound financial position, but Nauru continues to face serious economic and environmental challenges. Nauru’s total outstanding debt, estimated at A$869 million or 20 times Nauru’s GDP, is beyond its ability to repay. Nauru is seeking remission for as much of the debt as possible.
Nauru’s environment has been devastated by decades of phosphate mining. There is minimal local agriculture and water supply is unreliable. A Commission of Inquiry report on the Rehabilitation of Phosphate Lands was presented to the Government of Nauru in 1988, following which New Zealand and the United Kingdom agreed to contribute A$12 million each ex gratia towards the Australian out-of-court settlement of Nauru’s claim in the International Court of Justice for rehabilitation of lands mined for phosphate. Australia agreed to pay A$107 million towards Nauru’s rehabilitation costs, half as a lump sum payment and the remainder in annual instalments over the following twenty years. The rehabilitation of mined land remains an important long-term challenge for Nauru.
Though the majority of Nauru’s primary phosphate reserves were exhausted before independence, mining of Nauru’s remaining (mainly secondary, more difficult to extract) phosphate reserves in 2006 promises a modest source of ongoing income and employment for Nauru. The remaining reserves are projected to last for approximately 20 years, though prices are volatile.
Another important source of income for Nauru is fishing licences issued to China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and New Zealand. Nauru is also a Party to the US Tuna Treaty which provides fisheries access to Pacific island country EEZs for up to 40 US fishing vessels. Nauru and seven other tuna-rich Pacific Island States are Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA). PNA countries are increasingly working together as a bloc with the aim of extracting more value from their fisheries resources and to ensure that fish stocks are sustainably managed by restricting access.
In August 2012 Nauru agreed with Australia to reopen a processing centre on Nauru for asylum-seekers attempting to reach Australia. The centre is expected to bring much needed investment and job creation, as well as increase passenger loads on Nauru’s air link.
Nauru’s national airline ‘Our Airline’ operates the Brisbane - Honiara - Nauru - Tarawa - Nadi route twice weekly.
Nauru maintains no defence forces. Australia undertakes some responsibilities for the defence of the island.
On arrival in Nauru, New Zealand and other Commonwealth visitors who have an outward bound ticket to a place where they have right of entry; hold a valid passport; and have sufficient means of support for the duration of the stay, can be granted a visitor’s visa for up to three months.
Nauru maintains close relations with a number of Pacific Islands Forum countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. It also has close relations with Japan. Australia remains Nauru’s largest bilateral development partner.
Nauru changed its recognition from Taiwan to China in July 2002 and then back again to Taiwan in May 2005. Nauru maintains official overseas representation in Australia (Brisbane), Fiji and at the United Nations in New York.
Nauru is a member of the Pacific Islands Forum, Forum Fisheries Agency, Pacific Regional Environment Program, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Asian Development Bank, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, and the World Health Organisation. Nauru is also a member of a sub-regional group of Micronesian countries that co-operate on transport and trade links. Nauru became a full member of both the Commonwealth and the United Nations in 1999 and hosted the 2001 Pacific Islands Forum.
New Zealand has a friendly bilateral relationship with Nauru, mainly based on common membership of the Pacific Islands Forum and shared interests in regional issues such as fisheries, development coordination, regional trade, climate change and renewable energy.
New Zealand provides NZ$2.0 million annually, focusing on the education and justice sectors.
A delegated cooperation agreement between Australia and New Zealand was signed in 2011 to allow Australia to deliver a joint programme in the education sector, fully managing New Zealand's contribution. The arrangement in education is tracking well and has resulted in a more rational allocation of resources, and reduced transaction costs for Nauru.
The New Zealand High Commission in Honiara, Solomon Islands is accredited to Nauru [external link].
Consulate of the Republic of Nauru, Auckland.
The Safetravel website provides a travel advisory for travellers to Nauru [external link].