12 January 2004

Niue may return to New Zealand rule

Niue's status as a nation is under question after the cyclone that hit the tiny Pacific nation, causing more than $50 million damage.

In the aftermath of the storm, some island leaders are calling for a return to New Zealand governance, and expect the population to fall from about 1200 native Niueans to an unsustainable 500 people.

Such a drop would likely render the nation unviable. Niue currently receives $8m in aid a year from New Zealand, the equivalent of a cash hand-out of around $16,000 per head should the population fall to the predicted 500.

Fears for Niue's political survival come amid the declaration of a major health crisis over asbestos in the air, accusations of looting among destroyed villages and claims that early plans to alert the island's population to the cyclone were called off.

If Cyclone Heta is classified as an extreme weather event, then Niue could become the first nation extinguished by global warming. The Pacific has several other candidate nations, including Kiribati and Nauru. These are microstates, but their abandonment would make the world a poorer place.

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