SEATTLE — Nauru is the world’s smallest island nation and the smallest independent republic, situated in the southwest Pacific Ocean. With a population of 13,000, Nauru is the third-smallest nation behind Vatican City and Monaco, respectively. This oval-shaped island is only eight square miles, ringed with beaches and palm trees. In the 1800s, whalers referred to the former paradise as Pleasant Island. While boasting a luxurious island lifestyle, water quality in Nauru is a troubling concern for the Pleasant Islanders.
Nauru’s water sources rely heavily on imported water, collected rainwater and desalination. Desalination is the process of removing salt from salt water so that it becomes safely drinkable; though beneficial, it costs exorbitant amounts of energy.
The country’s vast reserves of phosphate were mined and depleted over time. The country suffered economically and now struggles to maintain its resources. Currently, foreign countries export safe drinking and irrigation water into Nauru. With phosphate no longer being a viable source of income, the island cannot afford to continue to import its water.
While rainfall could be a potential solution to the dwindling water supply, Nauru is located in the dry belt of the equatorial oceanic zone. Annual rainfall is extremely variable, averaging 2098 millimeters per year from 1894 to 2001. Some years had a minimal 278 millimeters, while other years had maximums of 4588 millimeters. Therefore, inconsistent rain cannot be a viable solution.
In 2002, the country issued the First Nation Report to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). In this report, the Department of Economic Development and Environment explains that “apart from the Buada Lagoon, there are no surface freshwater resources on Nauru, although there are a few brackish ponds…and an underground lake.” Several hundred wells along the coast tap shallow, unconfined groundwater. But, according to the World Health Organization, one-third of these wells exceed their recommended limit of 1500 mg/l.
To increase the water quality in Nauru, the Ministry of Commerce, Industries and Resources (CIR) is currently marketing a solution: the Integrated Water Resource Management Demonstration Project. The CIR plans to “enhance water security for Nauru through better water management and reduced contamination of ground water.”
The project consists of three main components. Firstly, the protection of groundwater resources from pollution through sanitation upgrading and management. Secondly, stressing reduction of water resources through building the Nauruans capacity for conservation and improved water management. Thirdly, awareness raising of current and future water issues.
This project will improve water quality in Nauru, as well as provide economical benefits in the long run. Nauru will be able to provide and conserve safe water in the future using these upgraded techniques.
– Karyn Adams