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ROME, Italy (June 13, 2002 - PINA Nius Online)---Worried about a likely rise in sea levels, destructive fishing practices, and globalization, Pacific Islands leaders attending a world food security summit in Rome have sought international action.

They reminded 183 nations gathered at the "World Food Summit: Five Years Later" of the distinctive risks to food security in the Pacific Islands.

Tongan Prime Minister Prince ‘Ulukalala Lavaka Ata told how rising tides have cut up the historic ancient seat of the Kingdom of Tonga into small islands.

"Thus, understandably, it is becoming more difficult to focus on agriculture when the very existence of parts of the kingdom is now under question," he said.

Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Niue, Samoan and Tongan leaders are in Rome for the summit. Fiji, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu are represented at senior government levels.

The summit has been convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

The aim: to mobilize the will and resources needed to reduce global hunger by half by 2015, in keeping with the pledge by world leaders at FAO's 1996 World Food Summit.

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.

The Pacific leaders repeatedly stressed the impact of climate change.

President Kessai Note said his home Marshall Islands -- barely an average two meters (6.6 feet) above sea level -- would be among first affected by a rise in sea level caused by global climate change.

He pointed out: "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 for my country."

Endorsing the plea, Cook Islands Prime Minister Dr. Robert Woonton reminded the summit that this was one of the several areas in which the 1996 summit recommended international action.

He said: "Climate change ... can have potentially disastrous effects on our agricultural production, not to mention our overall national security.

"It is essential, therefore, that states that are the major emitters of greenhouse gases make significant, early reductions in their emission levels. We call on them to do so."

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi added that his country was already feeling the negative effects of climate change.

He said: "Seasonal crops continue to deviate from their normal months of season. Unpredictable weather has caused detrimental effects on harvest quality and quantity."

Pacific islands nations also highlighted concerns about sustainable fishing, which is vital not only for food security but their economic well being.

They urged distant water fishing nations, which operate in the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of the Pacific Islands nations, to cooperate in the sustainable use of these resources.

With EEZs spread across 30.5 million square kilometers (12.2 million square miles) -- 60 times their total land area and 28 percent of the world's EEZ area -- Pacific Islands states account for more than half the annual global tuna catch.

License fees from foreign tuna fishing fleets are a major source of revenue for: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Dr. Woonton told the summit: "Those resources are vital as a source of food for our people as well as for our economic development.

"Therefore, we also call on all states fishing in the region, especially the distant water fishing states, closely with us to ensure the sustainable use of those resources."

Kiribati President Teburoro Tito told the summit that local fisher folk were complaining about the practices used by foreign fishing vessels that have sharply reduced the local tuna catch.

He said they are telling him it now takes a day to catch what they used to be able to land in two hours.

He called on foreign nations fishing in the Pacific Islands nations to end indiscriminate catches by enlarging the net sizes.

He said: "My government encourages international cooperation in improving the mesh size and design of these nets to prevent further indiscriminate catching of small and non-targeted fish and to ensure greater sustainability of these resources as part and parcel of the food security in the context of the Rome Declaration."

Marshall Islands too is concerned about striking a balance between the need for allowing commercial exploitation of its fisheries resources and their sustainable use.

The country is assessing the health of the coral reefs on several outer islands where commercial activities are a major source of revenue for the country.

Pacific Islands leaders also raised concerns about the likely impact of globalization on their fragile economies and called for reform of the international agricultural trading system.

Said Dr. Woonton: "The obstacles facing agricultural exports in developing countries are burdensome enough without having to compete with the highly subsidized agricultural products of the world's major agricultural producers.

"We join with others in urging that early, genuine steps be taken to reform the international agricultural trading system," said the Prime Minister of Cook Islands.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa said Samoa looked on the challenges of globalization as an opportunity to improve market competitiveness. But it was worried that "the lowering of trade barriers has resulted in an influx of inferior food imports."

This, he said, "is having an impact on the health of lower-income families."

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