SMALL VICTORIES

Palau, the tiny island nation that is standing up for itself

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News headlines are dominated by large countries, but there are over 70 countries with fewer than 1 million citizens. And in an increasingly connected, globalized world, such places can find it difficult to control their own destinies.

Consider the tiny nation of Palau, a group of Pacific islands with a total population of just 20,000. (That’s about as many residents as a dozen or so city blocks in Manhattan.) Being so small, Palau has to depend on its large neighbors for the tourists and foreign investment they provide. But visitors arriving by the tens of thousands from such behemoths as Japan, South Korea, and China, put considerable stress on Palau’s environment and economy. Snorkeling sites can seem to have as many people as fish. Price increases—the result of demand from tourists outstripping the humble local supply—have made everyday items unaffordable for locals.

Globalization is here to stay, and Palau doesn’t want to kick everybody out. But it also doesn’t want to just become a getaway for foreigners.

Quartz News went to Palau to find out how the country is trying to assert itself, even in the face of the world’s superpowers, in order to maintain its unique culture and values, protect its environment, and promote its people. The answer, it turns out, involves growing marijuana and chewing betel nut.

Quartz News is a weekly video series bringing you in-depth reporting from around the world. Each episode investigates one story, breaking down the often unseen economic and technological forces shaping our future.

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