Category Archives: failed states

Sacrificed Nauru – A tale about our mentality of carelessness

The tiny Pacific Island nation  Nauru is today trapped in a nightmare: The country is degraded  by unsustainable phosphate mining and the state is searching for an economical lifeline. On the same time, the island’s future is threatened by sea level rise. In her new book “This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. the Climate” the author Naomi Klein chose Nauru as an example for an area sacrificed to our mentality of carelessness.

Phosphate – A poisoned natural gift

Only 21 square kilometers large, the Pacific island Nauru was gifted with huge phosphate resources. Since the days of colonisation, this attracted miners from all parts of the world. In 1968 –  when Nauru became independent, the phosphate industry got nationalized. The state exploited in record speed the resources in the name of progress.

The big party in the 1970s

In the 1970s, Nauru became the wealthiest nation on the planet. People could have made wise investments for the future. But instead, the inhabitants preferred to celebrate a big party. Money was used up for consumption: People bought big boats, sports cars and immense housings. Many residents quit their jobs. The government paid even household staff. This sounds like paradise. But it turned out to become a tragedy.

Leaving a moonscape desert

In the 1990, the phosphate reserves of Nauru were almost entirely exhausted. A seriously harmed environment was left. Phosphate mining turned the central Plateau to a moonscape of barren terrain. 80 percent of Nauru’s land area is today uninhabitable. Marine life was seriously harmed by silt and phosphate runoff.

The desperate search for money

Since the wealth was used up by consumption, little cash was left. Investments of the national “Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust” failed and the country run out of money. In the search for a financial lifeline, Nauru became a tax haven and illegal money laundering center. In 2001, Nauru entered into an agreement with Australia to host Australian refugees in exchange for foreign aid. Nevertheless, the state is still on the brink of bankrupcy.

Becoming the fattest place on Earth

During its wealth period, people forgot about healthy food habits and turned to a lifestyle of fast food and less physical activity. Obesity became thus an important problem of the country. According to the WHO, 40 percent of the inhabitants of Nauru suffer from diabetes. Media consider Nauru often as fattest place of the word.

 A manmade nightmare

Today, Nauru is a manmade hell and a tale for the absurdity of globalization. The country struggles with a failed economy and a health crisis. The economy relies on imports for almost everything – from food and water to fuel. The environment is destroyed. Since the elevated zones of the islands are uninhabitable, people are very vulnerable to sea level rise. Islanders feel that they are trapped in a nightmare.

Why bothering about Nauru?

Nauru could have been exploited in suicidal way, because it was for the rest of the world unimportant and far away. This was paired with a local mentality of carelessness. Today, Nauru’s leaders use the fate of their country as warning example for the rest of the world. Like Nauru in the 1970s, we are living a lifestyle of overconsumption and facing the risk of an environmental collapse.

Naomi Klein reminds us with this story that we are currently dancing with the devil.

Klein, Naomi (2014): This Changes Everything. Capitalism vs. the Climate, New York, Simon & Schuster.

Naomi Klein This Changes Everything

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Gangs, riots and failed states – Climate change fuels urban conflicts

Landless climate migrants move to the capitals and exacerbate conflicts over the allocation of resources in overcrowded urban centers. In some Pacific Island states, the situation already got explosive. Desperate people, who have nothing to lose, chose violence as option of social action. 

Overcrowded paradise

Despite their divine appearance, many Pacific islands are overcrowded. The population density of Kiribati is higher than that of Hong Kong (McAdam, 2009). More than 35% of the people of Pacific Islands life and work in towns. Key drivers of this urbanization trend is the prospect of cash employment and education in towns. In hope for economic opportunities, families send their children to the capitals. 8 of the 22 Pacific countries are today predominantly urban. By 2020, more than the half of the population will live in towns (Russel, 2009). Natural resources in urban areas are already today overexploited and cannot supply enough resources for a growing population. 

The faith of landless people

With growing sea level, small islands get uninhabitable. People of outer islands are forced to move to urban centers in the search for new opportunities. This landless population settles in urban squatter areas and competes with townspeople over the allocation of water, land and food. In contrast to subsistence farmers, landless people rely on opportunities to earn cash money to buy expensive imported food. But outside government services, there are not many opportunities for paid employment in Pacific Island states. Unemployment rates are extremely high. The related emotional stress leads to problems of alcohol abuse and violence (Green, 2009). Frustration and tensions can explode.

 Raskol gangs terrorizing Papua New Guinea

In Papua New Guinea, the public degradation is at a level close to the threshold of civil war. Papua New Guinea is a multiethnic state. Loyalty is attributed rather to clans than to fragile governmental authorities. Despite the rich mineral resource, economic inequality is high in the country. Corrupt elites attributed the exploitation of resources to transnational corporates. More than 90% of the youth in Papua New Guinea are unemployed. One third of the population has less than $2 per day for their personal needs (Cauvet et al.,2010). Violence established as mean for survival.

The population is terrorized by armed ‘raskol’ gangs who establish their own law and order. Robbery, rape and murdering is in Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby a daily occurrence. Especially foreigner live very dangerous, so that hotels are equipped like fortresses. Gangs transfer traditional tribal structures to the new form of gangster organization. The term ‘raskol’ means in Pidgin English bandits. In their self-conception, ‘raskol’ gang members are Robin Hood like fighters for social justice. (Timoshenko, 2010) In 2004, The Economist elected Port Moresby as the most unlivable capital city on Earth. In the same year, the Australian government was forced send police forces to Papua New Guinea to restore the public order. Australia allocated 1 milliard Australian Dollars for this intervention (Timoshenko, 2010).

Blue-helmet intervention on Solomon Islands

Unfortunately, Papua New Guinea is not the only example of the region how the social order of a state can break down. On Solomon Islands, tensions exploded since 1998 in violent riots. This  cost the life of hundreds of people. Over 50,000 people were displaced. Especially, ethnic Chinese groups became the scapegoat for frustration. In July 2003, the United Nations blue helmet intervention ‘Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands’ (RAMSI) was necessary to calm the armed conflict. (PSIDS, 2009). UN soldiers collected firearms to appease the situation. Over 300 RAMSI police officers helped to restore the public order. Nevertheless, the conflicts re-erupted in 2006: During this riots, Chinatown was burned down. Though increased efforts of the RAMSI mission calmed down the situation, the peace is still fragile on Solomon Islands.

In 2014, both Pacific island states are classed on the Fragile State Index of the Fund for Peace with a very high warning for the risk of state failure.

© 2014 Heike Huntebrinker. All rights reserved.