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Climate change, rising sea level cited

By Kate McPherson

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Sept. 4, 2009) – Climate change has so badly affected crops in a tiny South Pacific island group that hungry children are being sent home early from school.

They do not have enough energy to concentrate on lessons.

The Reef Islands are part of the Solomon Islands' far-eastern Temotu Province.

A severe food shortage is affecting the nine outlying atolls in the province's north-west.

Government officials and Red Cross workers have been visiting the Reef group to compile a report on the situation.

Temotu province secretary Freddy Me'esa told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program the team said crop shortages were due to rising sea levels and alteration of the rainfall pattern.

"Crop failure in the Reef Islands is due mainly to weather paterns of climate change," Mr Me'esa said.

The report has gone to the provinical government which will recommend action to the central authorities, and the secretary did not rule out food relief.

He said local officials were so concerned, in particular, about the effect of food shortages on students they had sent the report direct to the education ministry in Honiara.

Trees such as breadfruit - one of the world's highest-yielding food plants - are affected. Usually, breadfruit tolerates coral sands and some salinity.

Mr Me'esa said the trees usually have two fruit-bearing seasons.

"That's where the problems come from that these people are experiencing."

The area has three senior schools, he said, and investigators found classes that began at 8am were finishing at noon or even as early as 10.30am.

The issue was that children were hungry, lacked energy and were not learning.

For teachers, when children "enter the class, the learning will not be really active as we expect because they are not well fed.

"So that means the concentration of the children will not be sort of active," he said.

This was a blow to families that "really value education".

Schools do not provide food for students.

"They just take the main subjects, so they go home and find food with their families," he said.

There, the adults, "as parents, they have to find something for the children to eat."

The provincial secretary said schools do not provide food for students, but the bigger issue was that there is insufficient food on the atolls in any case.

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