Nauru is the land of world records  and the comedians’ favourite, if they have even heard of the place. The world’s smallest republic and once the richest country, is located in the Pacific Ocean. All services were free, no taxes, people drove around in luxury cars on the small island of 21 sq m and had a decadent lifestyle that would make even Arabs shamed. The contrast to today is enormous, where Nauru has the highest number of diabetics in the world, live 20 years shorter than neighboring countries, has 90% unemployment and about 60% of the houses are dilapidated. Nauru could be the story of Norway in a few decades. An economy characterized by limited natural resources, international funds, insufficient investment in new sectors and an unsustainable public spending. But Nauru has more in common with Norway than that…  Nauru, March 2014

Tiny Nauru on 21 sq km in the Pacific Ocean

Tiny Nauru on 21 sq km in the Pacific Ocean

The world’s least visited countries and most complicated visa process
Marble. The floor of the airport. Exclusive, but poor maintenance. I have landed in the world’s least visited country, with 200 annual tourists. A mediocre pub in Oslo have more guests on a weekday.

I learned quickly that this country also has the world’s most complicated visa process. It’s as simple as a notoriously unfaithful husband would get permission to go on a lads’ trip to Pattaya. Theoretically possible, but requires a lot of planning, creativity, time and a dose of lies. In addition to sending mails 3 months in advance with numerous attachments and been lied to by the consulate, I was deprived my passport at the airport and then had to travel the length and breadth of the island getting approvals and pay the fee. Of course there is no taxi on the island and the mandatory pre-bookete hotel did not show up at the airport.

To rusted cranes

Two rusted cranes

75 percent of the island is uninhabitable and the rest dilapidated
Nauru has two hotels, but since one hotel never responded to my booking request I ended on the «luxury hotel» Menen, once the most exclusive in the Pacific. Built for a convention in 1975 with 119 rooms and has since never been full. Decaying, non-existent service.

Despite the lack of public transport, the islanders were exceptionally nice. All cars would picked me up at the roadside, when I was on my daily explorations. I did however quickly realized that there was not much to discover. 75% of the island was uninhabitable due to the phosphate mining, which had resulted in the loss of local wildlife. There was a few sandy beaches, dominated by huge phosphate formations. The entire society was characterized by decay. The ruins of the presidential palace on top of the island. Rusty luxury cars on overgrown lawns. Derelict houses and buildings.

It was hard to imagine that this was once the world’s richest countries, but therefor more interesting to learn about the history. Much has been written about Nauru, several myths. Therefore I visited the nations Bureau of Statistics to get  facts and the manager was more than willing to share his knowledge. Unfortunately, «facts» are not always objective or available, for example, the hospital burned down last year and a lot of medical data was lost, and the classification of unemployment varies considerably  (e.g. full-time vs. part time employment, «independent», etc.).

Common sign on the island, due to lack of maintenance and production stop

Common sign on the island, due to lack of maintenance and production stop

Once the world’s richest countries
The tiny archipelago discovered phosphate in 1900, which at times gave the country the world’s highest GDP per capita. In the 60 – to 80-century the people lived the good life, where health, education, dental, transportation and newspapers were free, taxes non-exisiting, few worked and luxury cars competing for the space on the island’s few roads.

In addition, they invested in international funds and properties, which should ensure the future after the phosphates days were numbered. Substantial amounts were also invested in establishing «Air Nauru,» which could have been a modern airline, but was considered to be unreliable when flights were often canceled (often because i.e.  the president’s wife suddenly wanted to go shopping in Australia). In addition, they invested millions of dollars in show at the West End, «Leonardo the Musical».

The "nice" beaches dominated by phosphate formations

The «nice» beaches dominated by phosphate formations

When it rain it pours
Unfortunately for the nation the easy recoverable phosphate deposits ended one day and from there it went rapidly downhill. To summarize briefly many investments failed and the fund shrunk from 1.3 billion A $ in 1991 to 138 million in 2002 and the country lacks now money to perform basic government functions, i.e. the National Bank is insolvent. Several properties were sold in 2004 to serve the substantial debt, the plane was confiscated by the banks and the musical is still regarded as one of the greatest failures of the London Theater.

In distress the devil eats flies
One of the many desperate measures to save the economy, was the attempt to create a tax haven, where Nauru sold citizenship and the only requirement to establish a bank was $ 25,000. Nauru quickly became a money laundering haven, but after pressure from FATF (Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering) this ceased in 2003.

Other controversial measures was trading (selling) votes in international bodies for aid and Nauru was for example the 4th country in the world to recognize Abkhazia, a breakaway republic of Georgia, after having received $ 50 million from Russia in 2008/9.

One of the more «sustainable», but controversial measures started in 2001, where they received assistance from Australia to build asylum centers. Nauru has today several barbed wire fenced camps, where Australia stacks their asylum seekers. A hot and inhumane place, which has gotten international criticism. In distress the devil eats  flies and this morally dubious activity is at present Nauru’s main source of income.

And what about the residents. Decades of a decadent lifestyle with an abundance of fast food, smoking and alcohol and lack of physical activity have resulted in that they normally get diabetes in their 20s or 30s, live 20 years shorter than Australia and New Zealand, 90% have not been fixed-paid employment, two out of three can not read or write Nauru fluently and most drop out of school at the age of 16. Unfortunately, the living conditions is in style with the health, and the majority live in dilapidated homes, where approx. 38% do not have a trashcan and 42% not a fridge.

Norway vs. Nauru: Only a matter of time?
Most Norwegians will shake their heads about comparing Norway with Nauru, but the fact is that they have much in common, that is Nauru in the 70’s and Norway in 2014.

1) Norway is extremely dependent on a non-renewable commodity, where the oil production reached its peak in 2000 and will run out of oil within a generation, while the future dynamics and the pricing will be uncertain as a result of the world’s biggest customer, the United States, is on way to becoming self-sufficient through shale oil extraction

2) We have an expensive oil-financed lifestyle and high and rising public spending, for example 428 municipalities and only 5,000,000 inhabitants, the world’s highest proportion of public employees (1 of 3) and the world’s highest proportion of citiziens sick or on welfare (30 percent)

3) We do not focus enough on measures to ensure new sectors that can replace the oil sector

We have a somewhat better position, especially with regard to the oil fund, but we should be careful not to throw stones at the Titantic, when we pass by with Scandinavian Star (Norwegian cruise chips that burned). The current guidelines for oil spendings may  have outlived their usefulness and become a dangerous pretext while Norway seems to have a Dutch Sickness, are over-administrated and spends more money than it earns. One of the major American newspapers described Norwegians in an article a few years ago as lazy, spoiled abusers of the welfare system and the current numbers gives them unfortunately right.

However, the important thing is not how similar we are with Nauru, but if we do enough so that the rest of the world would not draw a smile and shake their head 20-30 years from now when Norway is mentioned. I have my doubts. In addition, Norway and Nauru’s National Day are on the same day, namely 17 May. A mere coincidence? Hardly!

PS: Lost most of my pic’s, so had to borrow some from the internet