Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Lessons From Nauru

Over the weekend I was chatting to someone who had traveled extensively through Europe and he was saying that he spent ages in a country called Andorra. I had never heard of this country and he explained that it is the smallest country in the world other than the Vatican. It's not, Monaco is (just as I suspected) but researching this country, that I had never heard of, led me to a list of the 5 smallest countries. (There is a point to this so stay with me....) In the list of the 5 smallest countries (in which Andorra didn't actually feature, but hey we can't all be right all the time) Nauru was one of them.

I found the description of Nauru really interesting as it is an island nation and you can almost look at it as a small sample of exactly what will happen to the world if we keep going the way we are going.

You may have heard of Nauru because it is home to an Australian detention camp. Anyway, this is what the site said (and please note that I didn't go searching around to find out if this is all actually true, I have copied and pasted directly fromThe 5 Smallest Countries in the World).

"Nauru is the world’s smallest island nation, the smallest independent republic, and the only republic in the world without an official capital.

Nauru only has one significant source of income: phosphates from thousands of years’ worth of guano or bird droppings. This proved to be both a boon and a bane for Nauruans – for a long time, its residents enjoyed a relatively high level of income as the country exported its phosphate like there’s no tomorrow.

The government employed 95% of Nauruans, and lavished free medical care and schooling for its citizens. Most didn’t take advantage of this offer: only one-third of children went on to secondary school. The adults didn’t really work, either – office hours were flexible and the most popular pastime was drinking beer and driving the 20-minute circuit around the island. For a while, Nauru was a paradise – for a brief moment in 1970s, Nauruans were even amongst the richest people on the planet.

Nothing lasts forever and sure enough, Nauru’s phosphate reserves soon dried up and left 90% of the island as a barren, jagged mining wasteland. Wasteful investments (like buying hotels only to leave them to rot) and gross incompetence by the government (former presidents used to commandeer Air Nauru’s planes for holidays, leaving paying customers stranded on the tarmac!) didn’t help either.

As if that’s not bad enough, Nauru is also beset by obesity problem. Decades of leisurely lifestyle and high consumption of alcohol and fatty foods have left as many as 9 out of 10 people overweight! Nauru also has the world’s highest level of type 2 diabetes – over 40% of its population is affected.

So now, Nauruans are poverty-stricken and fat – but they are trying to turn things around. With no natural resource left, in the 1990s, Nauru decided to become a tax haven and offered passports to foreign nationals for a fee. This attracted the wrong kind of money (but a lot of it): the Russian mafia funneled over $70 billion to the tiny island nation. Things got so bad that most big banks refused to handle transactions involving Nauru because of money laundering problems.

This led Nauru to another extraordinary money-making scheme: it became a detention camp for people applying for asylum to Australia!"

Between this little look at what was once paradise and the movie Avatar, I think this planet could be heading for destruction if we don't change our ways....

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