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Nauru is tiny! The whole island, which covers about 8 square miles, giving it the distinction of being the smallest republic in the world, and has a population of less than 10,000 people, which makes it the second least populous country, running behind (or ahead of?) Vatican City. Unlike its Micronesian neighbors, Nauru had little contact with Westerners before the Germans annexed it at the end of the 19th century. After World War I Nauru became a League of Nations mandate administered by Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. During World War II the Japanese occupied Nauru and after the war it returned into trusteeship. Nauru became independent in 1968.
Nauruans used to be the wealthiest people per capita in the world…but that was then. Over thousands of years birds who called Nauru home left their droppings on the islands and by the time the Germans arrived these droppings had transformed into a rich layer of phosphate. Starting in the early 1900s Western companies strip-mined the heck out of Nauru’s phosphate; after independence, when Naurau took substantial control of its phosphate wealth, this made Nauru rich. Unfortunately the phosphate deposits ran out in the 1980s and Nauru went bankrupt. Since then the island has done what it could to make money to keep its environmentally depleted land going, including briefly becoming an international hub of money laundering and also, from 2001 to 2008, hosting a detention center for people seeking asylum in Australia. Today, in addition to being poor, Nauru has the distinction of edging out several other Pacific nations to top the World Health Organization’s 2010 “obesity rankings”: “Diet is the main reason: people who once subsisted on fish, coconuts and root vegetables now eat imported processed foods that are high in sugar and fat.” These are not banner days for Nauru.