[Reading level: B2 – Upper Intermediate]
Two giant metal structures jut out from the sub-equatorial waters off the western Pacific island nation of Nauru. Now collapsed and abandoned, the former phosphate loading stations are evidence of a mining boom and economic downfall that saw one of the wealthiest nations in the world become one of the poorest, in a generation.
At just 21 square kilometers, Nauru was once home to the purest phosphate reserves in the world. Nauru’s phosphate — created from the droppings of birds migrating across the ocean for thousands of years — is a prized and essential ingredient in fertilizer.
In the mid-1970s when the country’s economy peaked, Nauru’s gross domestic product per capita was estimated at $50,000, second only to Saudi Arabia.
As the good times rolled, the government established the Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust, a sovereign wealth fund that invested in international real estate. The country bought a fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft, public services were free and taxes virtually non-existent.
But by the turn of the century, the phosphate reserves were thought to have been exhausted and the nation’s debts piled up. Most of the trust fund’s assets were sold off and Nauru became increasingly dependent on foreign aid.
Australia, the country’s most significant donor, now provides development assistance equivalent to roughly one-quarter of Nauru’s GDP.
“We have eaten all the benefits of the land!” Julie Olsson, a local Nauruan, exclaims as she bounces around in her car while driving down the pothole-laden roads of the island’s barren interior known to locals as “Topside.”
Mining has rendered the inner 80 percent of Nauru uninhabitable, with the island’s roughly 11,000-strong population almost entirely restricted to the coast. Now, the interior is dotted with jagged limestone pinnacles — geological “leftovers” after the phosphate-rich soil was scooped out from the hard stone.
At 60 years of age, Olsson is acutely aware that her generation has reaped all the benefits of Nauru’s wealth, leaving very little to pass on.
“We need to account for all the lost money. For our children to understand why we have such a big hole in the middle (of the island),” she says.
In 2005, the Nauruan government began “secondary mining” of phosphate left over from previous, less efficient excavation methods. However, even this economic lifeline is only generously estimated to provide an extra 30 years of revenue.
For Olsson, the “saddest” aspect of the economic downfall is the impact on her country’s education system.
“(Previously) the government gave out scholarships to boarding schools in Australia. Virtually all of us, a big proportion of Nauruans, went to an Australian school,” she said.
Olsson herself received a full scholarship to complete middle and senior school at a Christian girls’ college in a rural part of Australia’s eastern state of New South Wales, and credits her overseas education for her current work with non-governmental organizations.
In recent years, the Nauruan government, broke and devoid of other sources of income, has propped up its economy by hosting an offshore Australian immigration detention facility.
Asylum seekers who arrive illegally in Australia are transferred to the Nauru Regional Processing Center, where their claims for asylum are processed. The center consists of three separate facilities located at different sites on the island.
The Australian owned and operated holding facility is a key employer on Nauru, and generated A$115 million (about $82.6 million) in revenue for the island state in 2015-16, according to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
jut out from somewhere /dʒʌt/ (v): nhô ra
sub-equatorial /sʌb ˌek.wəˈtɔː.ri.əl/ (adj): cận xích đạo
phosphate /ˈfɒs.feɪt/ (n): phốt phát
economic downfall /iː.kəˈnɒm.ɪk ˈdaʊn.fɔːl/ (n): suy thoái kinh tế
reserves /rɪˈzɜːvz/ (n): trữ lượng
prized /praɪzd/ (adj): đáng giá
gross domestic product per capita /ˌɡrəʊs dəˌmes.tɪk ˈprɒd.ʌkt pə ˈkæp.ɪ.tə/ (n): tổng sản phẩm quốc nội bình quân đầu người
royalty /ˈrɔɪ.əl.ti/ (n): tiền nhuận bút, tiền thuê mỏ
trust /trʌst/ (n): quỹ ủy thác
sovereign wealth fund /ˈsɒv.ər.ɪn welθ fʌnd/ (n): quỹ tài sản quốc gia
pile up /paɪl ʌp/ (v): chồng chất
bounce around /baʊns/ (v): nảy lên nảy xuống
pothole-laden /ˈpɒt.həʊl ˈleɪ.dən/ (adj): đầy ổ gà
barren /ˈbær.ən/ (adj): cằn cỗi
render sb/sth + adj /ˈren.dər/ [C2] (v): khiến cho ai/cái gì trở nên làm sao
uninhabitable /ˌʌn.ɪnˈhæb.ɪ.tə.bəl/ (adj): không thể ở được
jagged /ˈdʒæɡ.ɪd/ (adj): lởm chởm
pinnacle /ˈpɪn.ə.kəl/ (n): đỉnh
scoop out /skuːp/ (v): xúc ra
acute /əˈkjuːt/ (adj): sâu sắc
reap benefit /riːp/ [C2] (v): hưởng lợi
pass on /pɑːs/ [B2] (v): truyền lại
account for sth /əˈkaʊnt/ (v): giải thích cho cái gì
excavation /ˌeks.kəˈveɪ.ʃən/ (n): sự đào, sự khai quật
lifeline /ˈlaɪf.laɪn/ (n): cứu cánh
revenue /ˈrev.ən.juː/ [C1] (n): doanh thu
credit /ˈkred.ɪt/ (v): tin rằng
devoid of sth /dɪˈvɔɪd/ (adj): không có cái gì
prop up /prɒp/ (v): thúc đẩy
asylum seeker /əˈsaɪ.ləm ˌsiː.kər/ (n): người xin tị nạn
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