This tiny island has been devastated by war, mining, and now climate change.
You’ve probably never heard of Nauru. But you might want to learn its name. It may not be around much longer.
Nauru is a speck in the South Pacific. It’s the tiniest island nation and the third smallest nation in the world. At roughly 8 square miles and with just over 10,000 residents, Nauru isn’t exactly a political heavyweight on the world stage. But Nauru is sinking, drying out, and generally in peril due to the ever-accelerating effects of climate change. And it may spark a debate at the Paris climate talks currently underway about what to do with populations on the verge of becoming climate refugees with literally nowhere to go.
Nauru is not your typical drowning-island scenario. What used to be a Pacific island oasis is now, by many accounts, a physical example of how quickly paradise can be destroyed. In the early 1900s, a German company began strip-mining the interior of the island for phosphate, the main component of agricultural fertilizer. Then came Japan, which occupied the country during World War II, and continued the phosphate mining. The U.S. bombed Japan’s airstrip on Nauru in 1943, preventing food supplies from entering the island. Less than a year later, Japan deported 1,200 Nauruans to work as forced laborers on a nearby island—only 737 of them survived the ordeal to be repatriated after the war just three years later. After the war, Australia took control of the country, and phosphate mining resumed as an Australian enterprise, before mining rights were transferred to Nauru when the nation became independent in 1968.