Nauru: Stuck between a rock and the unforgiving ocean


More than a century of phosphate mining, rapid population growth, and the increasing frequency and intensity of climate change impacts have brought about a very dire situation for Nauru – there is just no more space for people to live.

With a land area of only 21 km2 and a population of approximately 12,000, Nauru is one of the smallest states in the world yet very densely populated for the Pacific region. Lack of available land means lack of a sustainable future, as land is a basic prerequisite for almost all national development activities and projects.

Around 80 percent of Nauru’s land consists of a vast expanse of coral pinnacles left behind after phosphate was extracted, and unsuitable for development. This huge expanse of barren terrain is situated on the inner plateau of the island at approximately 40-60 meters above sea level, while the inhabitable area is along the low-lying shoreline.

As our population increases, the demand for land also increases. The residential settlement within Denigmodu district is already presenting some of the social and economic challenges common with unplanned, crowded, informal settlements. A recent unpublished population projection by the Nauru Bureau of Statistics expects growth of up to 40% within the next 10 to 15 years.

Where will these people live, go to school, and where will their water and power come from?

Lying just 53 km south of the equator, Nauru has been fortunate not to suffer cyclones or tsunamis like other Pacific island nations are prone to. But the country is not immune to the increasingly devastating and unpredictable impacts of climate change.

The frequency and intensity of king tides amplify each year, while the shoreline disappears and the sea level rises. This means the little available land that Nauruans require to live and develop is shrinking further.

So, what is the solution to Nauru’s predicament? Thus far two possible solutions have been brought forward: urgent land rehabilitation and population transfer.

Population transfer ranges from the extreme variation of transferring the whole population to another country,