Nauru Higher Ground Project

Nauru Rehabilitation Corporation


Nauru is the third smallest country in the world (behind the Vatican City and Monaco) with a total land area of only 21 square kilometres and a population of around 12,000 people. Nauru lies just south of the equator, and is a single raised limestone island around 50-70 metres above sea level, surrounded by a coral reef and with a narrow low-lying coastal strip of land area which houses almost the entire population.

In 1899 a geologist identified that the upper levels of the island were rich in rock phosphate, and since then these reserves have been exploited and steadily depleted until today the remaining reserves are largely uneconomic for further mining operations.

In 1921 the National Geographic Magazine described the after-effects of the mining as “A worked out phosphate field is a dismal ghastly tract of land .… its cavernous depths littered with broken coral, abandoned tram tracks, discarded phosphate baskets, and rusted American kerosene tins.”

The Nauru Rehabilitation Corporation, a Nauru government department tasked with rehabilitating the mined out lands asked for help with the task.  Calibre, working closely with the Pacific Community (SPC, an international development organisation owned by its 26 government members) identified the huge challenges facing this tiny nation and NRC, with their limited resources and capacity to repair the ravages of the past misuse of the land.

The scale and cost of the rehabilitation required for the higher ground meant that both NRC and the Government of Nauru needed to shift their thinking before real progress would be possible.

Nauru project

Calibre identified the risk that climate change induced sea level rise would mean that in future generations the continued occupation of the low-lying fringing terraces would be untenable.  Already storm surges and king tides were washing over the reef causing widespread flooding, erosion of the coastline and damaging buildings and infrastructure.

Based on Calibre’s previous solutions for Tuvalu (borrow pits) and Kiribati (Temaiku reclamation), the team presented NRC and Cabinet with a new vision of “a planned and managed retreat of the people and key infrastructure from the low lying coastal strip to the higher ground.” 

This vision (termed the Higher Ground Project) aims to change the current focus on rehabilitating the land to a much wider view of a planned approach to moving the entire population to mitigate the future effects of climate change.

This is an aspirational and inter-generational vision that will set Nauru on the path to provide security for their children and their children’s children.

Calibre and SPC are continuing to work with the Government of Nauru to prepare a programme of capacity building and funding to implement the vision.