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Nauru: Paradise Ruined

Children watching planes land at Nauru Airport

Children watching planes land at Nauru Airport

Nauru, the world’s smallest independent nation, has long been a great source of interest for me. Every time I mention the name to friends, they consistently ask “Nauru? Where’s that?” Nauru is in the South Pacific, about two hours away from anything at all. It has been previously colonised by Germany and Australia, once it was realised that the island was home to a myriad supply of phosphates, alongside 13,000 people in desperate need of healthcare.

This is because, alongside being the smallest independent nation in the world, Nauru also has the world’s highest rates of obesity and diabetes. Half the adult population is diabetic and obesity rates for men and women are over 90%. Nauru needs healthcare and health education, and it needs it quickly; the economy is dying because its people are dying prematurely. “Paradise Ruined” does not go into great amounts of detail about how the Nauruans got themselves into this situation, nor does it need to; it touches on the fact that the Western world is just as much to blame for Nauru’s situation as Nauru’s plethora of fast food outlets are (although Nauru is one of the world’s few nations not to feature a McDonald’s restaurant).

However, with its tiny population in dire need of healthcare and health education, Nauru was always at risk of being exploited. Operation Weasel was uncovered in 2002 and involved America coercing Nauru into opening an embassy in Beijing, China, which would be used as a safe house for North Korean defectors being taken to the West. The money from this operation never materialised and Nauru was once again left without adequate healthcare for its citizens.

The film goes into some fairly graphic detail of the (usually diabetes-related) health problems of the Nauruans. Several amputees are interviewed; people have lost hands, feet and entire legs to diabetes-induced gangrene. The film closes with a doctor sawing off a patient’s finger, and a video montage of some Nauruans deep-frying fatty meat to a soundtrack of emotional music, which would be funny if it weren’t for the amputation juxtaposition. It also feels slightly as if Tanja Jørgensen is taking the proverbial piss at times. However, and because Nauru is an independent nation, its political and social issues are ones which should be taken seriously and given more awareness than they currently have.

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