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Attention Turns to Nauru as Leaders Gather for Pacific Islands Forum Next Week


Next week, leaders from around the Pacific will gather for the annual Pacific Islands Forum Summit, to be held this year in the tiny island nation of Nauru.

They’re scheduled to discuss security, economic co-operation and disaster response, among many other issues, but inevitably, considerable attention will be focused on the host nation. We have more from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.

Nauru hopes the summit will top a yearlong celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of its independence but the gathering will also draw attention to the tiny state’s many problems. Start with the economy. Nauru reports 90 percent unemployment, and 95 percent of those who do work, work for the government.  

Huge deposits of phosphates briefly made Nauru, per capita, the wealthiest country in the world in the 1980s, but the deposits have been almost entirely depleted, the country’s trust fund squandered and even as it celebrates a half-century of independence, Nauru depends heavily on Australia.

Nauru is home to one of two notorious detention camps operated by Australia to house migrants who attempted to reach Australia by sea. Hundreds of men women and children languish in conditions the UN deplores as inhumane.  This week, Nauru demolished the oldest camp on the island; refugee advocates said it was an effort to hide mold infested tents from visiting dignitaries. 

Because of space limitations, delegations will be limited to just a few from each country and media coverage will be further limited by a ban on Australia’s ABC, which has reported on corruption and bribery in Nauru.

Visitors will be unable to overlook environmental damage - 80 percent of Nauru’s land has been devastated by strip mining, and runoff from phosphates and silt are blamed for the death of 40 percent of the country’s marine life. 

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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