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ROME, Italy (June 11, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---A world summit concerning fighting hunger and poor nutrition heard today how Pacific Islands efforts could come to nothing because of the impacts of climate change and rising seas.

Marshall Islands President Kessai Note told the "World Food Summit: Five Years Later" in Rome: "The average size of our islands is about seven feet or two meters above sea level. If nothing is done now about climate change, then I am afraid the Marshallese people would become among the first of many environmental refugees.

"Everything we do here as to poverty alleviation and food security would come to naught in the near future, at least for my people and my country."

President Note is among five Pacific Islands leaders and ministers speaking at the summit, organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Also in Rome for this crucial meeting are:

The FAO-organized summit is a follow up to the 1996 World Food Summit, during which world leaders made commitments to cut hunger and undernourishment.

The FAO works to alleviate poverty and hunger by promoting agricultural development, improved nutrition and the pursuit of food security. Food security is defined as the access of all people at all times to the food they need for an active and healthy life.

President Note also told how the Marshall Islands is becoming increasingly dependent on imported foods.

He said: "This situation has been brought about by the rapid growth in our population and their abandonment of traditional subsistence activities in many of our islands.

"The situation has made food security in the Marshall Islands very vulnerable."

He told of programs the Marshall Islands government has introduced to combat this, including:

President Note said: "It is encouraging to note that more women and youths in the rural areas are participating in these small-scale agricultural projects, including FAO TeleFood Programs."

Canneries, reef and lagoon fisheries are an essential basis of domestic food security, he added.

"While promoting commercial exploration of our reef and lagoon fisheries as a means for income generation in the outer islands, my government is very much aware of the need to protect our ecosystems," he said.

He had directed government agencies to collaborate in assessing the health of the country's coral reefs on a number of outer islands.

He said: "We have started a fish stock assessment on two species of coral reefs and two of our most populated headlands and again we are hopeful that this kind of project, with adequate funding, will be duplicated in all our islands."

President Note stressed the right to eat and be free from hunger is as fundamental as the right to breathe.

"As policy makers, it is our obligation to ensure that this right is not only spoken of but that it is accorded the highest attention by our governments," he said.

The Marshall Islands reaffirmed its commitment to the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Action Plan to eliminate poverty.

"I am very proud to say also that my government supports the idea of global alliance against hunger and will assist in whatever way possible," President Note said.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: 

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