Gary Littman


Garry Littman is the owner and director of The Language House in Geneva which organises English language training for professional people, companies and students. He was a radio and newspaper journalist in his native Australia and ran a restaurant in Kathmandu in his younger days. He is an English language trainer and an aficionado of pétanque.

Paradise lost: An island in deep shit

The third smallest sovereign nation in the world, after the Vatican and Monaco, is the tiny island of Nauru.

This far-flung speck in the Pacific Ocean has a terrible tale to tell about the rapacious nature of the modern human.

The 21 square kilometre island was once a lush tropical paradise (a phrase that’s almost a cliché today).

For hundreds of thousands of years, long before the first humans arrived, migratory birds used the island as a pit-stop and restroom. They covered the island in a thick layer of fossilised shit, better know in polite circles as guano, a high-grade phosphate concentrate used to produce fertiliser.

It took only 30 years to strip mine (remove the surface of a large piece of land) the island and ship the phosphate to Australia. By the 1970s, phosphate mining had transformed Nauru into the Kuwait of the Pacific, one of the “richest” nations, per capita, on the planet. From shit came enormous wealth.

It also transformed the island into an ugly, barren, rocky outcrop where nothing grows. Eighty per cent of the island is now inhabitable.

                                              The moonscape of Nauru

Today, the “rich” islanders have among the world’s highest rates of obesity and diabetes. In 2007 the World Health Organisation identified 97% of the population as obese. One in three people have type two diabetes.

The island is sick and its people are sick. Paradise has been well and truly lost; forever.

So much so, that the island’s government is examining the option of relocating the island’s population of 9,500 to another island. With rising sea levels, Nauru’s people may earn the double distinction of becoming the planet’s first climate and environmental refugees.

After numerous scandals, scams and poor investments, Nauru tried to reinvent itself as a tax haven and money-laundering hub. According to the Russian central bank, about $70 billion of Russian mafia money vanished into Nauruan accounts in 1998.

The pitch black irony in this dark tragedy is that Nauru’s economy today limps along with foreign aid from the Australian Government which uses the island as one of its controversial off-shore detention centres for hundreds of refugees or boat people trying to get to Australian shores.

Writer and activist Naomi Klein said it’s a case of the climate change refugees of tomorrow playing prison warden to the war refugees of today.

The nightmare is still unfolding. Nauru’s story transcends the language of exploitation, colonialism, environmental degradation, rampant capitalism and greed. It is a story about the rapacious nature of modern humans.

 More reading: A Pacific Nation is Stripped of Everything - New York Times




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