Wed, Sep 05, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Nauru: From riches to rags

The once-wealthy island now barely survives on income from Australia’s detention regime and is pinning its economic hopes on undersea mining

The Guardian

With little phosphate left, this appears to amount to shuffling of the deckchairs on the Titanic.

As for rehabilitation of the island, the progress has been glacial.

The NRC was set up after a financial settlement in 1993 by Australia of US$135 million in belated recognition of the environmental disaster it had wreaked on the island.

NRC originally had a target of rehabilitating 400 hectares at the rate of 20 hectares a year, but so far it has only rehabilitated a small area known as pit 6, which is being used as the site of the jail — and the US$135 million appears to be gone.

Meanwhile, Nauru is running out of land.

SEA OF HOPE

The other big earner in recent years has been fishing, netting the government US$43.14 million last financial year in fees paid by foreign-flagged vessels.

The DeepGreen undersea mining project will need to be balanced with protecting these marine resources.

It says the resource has proved very promising, with high concentrations of the mineral-rich nodules on the seafloor at a depth of 4km. It plans to begin commercial mining in 2025.

Nauru’s president, Baron Waqa, is hopeful the venture will bring great benefits. DeepGreen’s Gerard Barron said under the agreement with Nauru, the company will pay royalties of “tens of millions” a year and make a significant contribution to the island’s GDP.

The company is already offering training and job opportunities to Naruans on its exploration voyages. Barron believes undersea mining for minerals could be as transformative for the Pacific as oil was for the Middle East.

But undersea mining is controversial. The Solwarra project off the coast of Papua New Guinea involves excavating and crushing up volcanic vents on the seafloor and then pumping the rubble to the surface. It’s been opposed by local communities and environmental groups.

Barron says mining nodules has far less impact: the loose nodules are vacuumed up and pumped to the surface, with the residual water then pumped back down to avoid disturbing ocean temperatures.

In anticipation of the end of the detention center business, Australia, Taiwan, New Zealand and the Asian Development Bank have also begun paying into the Nauru Intergenerational Trust Fund, a sovereign wealth fund being managed by a board of donor representatives and Australian accounting firms.

Its proceeds, currently US$56 million, cannot be spent until it builds to a critical mass. Nauru will make contributions, depending on its income each year.

The Guardian put detailed questions to the Nauru government but it did not respond.

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