Banaba Island: Forgotten People of the Pacific
Banaba Island ( /bəˈnɑːbə/; also Ocean Island), an island in the Pacific Ocean, is a solitary raised coral island west of the Gilbert Island chain and 300 km east of Nauru.
It is part of the Republic of Kiribati.
It has an area of 6.5 km², and the highest point on the island is also the highest point in Kiribati, at 81 metres (266 ft) high. Along with Nauru and Makatea (French Polynesia), it is one of the important elevated phosphate rich islands of the Pacific.
Phosphate rock-mining (for fertiliser) from 1900 to 1979 stripped away 90% of the island’s surface, the same process which occurred on Nauru from 1907 to the 1980s.
Japanese forces occupied the island from 26 August 1942 until the end of World War II in 1945.
The British authorities relocated most of the population to Rabi Island, Fiji after 1945, with subsequent waves of migration in 1977 and 1981-1983. Some have subsequently returned, following the end of mining in 1979; approximately 300 were living on the island in 2001.
Globally, there are an estimated 6000 individuals of Banaban descent.
The stated wish of the Kiribati government to reopen mining on Banaba is strongly opposed by many in the Banaban diaspora.
Some of the leaders of the displaced Banaban community in Fiji have called for Banaba to be granted independence. One reason given for the maintenance of a community on Banaba, at a monthly cost of F$12,000, is that if the island were to become uninhabited, the Kiribati government might take over the administration of the island, and integrate it with the rest of the country. Kiribati is believed to be anxious to retain Banaba, in the hope of remining it in the future. Additionally, along with Kiritimati, it is not a low-lying coral atoll and less susceptible to rising sea levels.
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