May 20, 2024


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300 million children missing school meals due to virus closures: World Food Programme

GENEVA: Around 300 million children who depend on school meals are missing out due to closures triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the World Food Programme said Friday (Mar 20).

The WFP pointed out that more than 860 million children – roughly half the world’s student population – were having to stay away from schools and universities due to shutdowns aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19.

COVID-19 school meals affected

Carlos Jimenez, 4, is thrilled to get a whole package of cookies at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School on March 18, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. As a result of all schools in Washington state being closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak until at least April 27th, Seattle Public Schools is providing carry-out meals to students during lunch hours. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Karen Ducey) 

In addition to missing out on learning, hundreds of thousands of children are now missing free school lunches, the UN agency said.

The WFP said nearly nine million children out of the 18 million the organisation itself feeds through school meals across 61 countries were no longer receiving them.

The agency said it was looking into alternative ways of providing children out of school with food, including take-home meals.

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some 300 million primary schoolchildren are now missing out on school meals on which they depend,” WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in an online briefing from Geneva.

COVID-19 school meals affected

Cynthia Wright asks Carlos Jimenez, 4, what he would like in his lunch bag along with his brother Gio Jimenez, 6, and father, Arturo Jimenez, at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School on Mar 18, 2020 in Seattle, United States. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/Karen Ducey)

She warned that the number of children deprived of WFP-provided school meals “is set to rise in coming days and weeks”.

“In countries where schools are closed, WFP is evaluating possible alternatives.

“This includes providing take-home rations in lieu of the meals, home delivery of food and provision of cash or vouchers,” she said.

Byrs stressed that without alternative solutions, many children around the world blocked from attending school would otherwise go hungry.

She said the idea of take-home rations would benefit not only children but their families too.

COVID-19 school meals affected (1)

A family carries home bagged meals given out as part of Stamford Public Schools’ “Grab and Go Meals for Kids” program, which is part of the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 17, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images/John Moore)

The governments of wealthy countries such as the United States, Britain, France and Canada have adopted special mechanisms to ensure that their poorest schoolchildren will not go hungry.

But the situation is much more precarious for children living in countries plagued by extreme poverty, armed conflict, and whose health systems are weak or almost non-existent.

“We can shift to online learning, but not online eating. Some solutions are needed,” Carmen Burbano, director of the WFP’s school feeding division, told AFP.

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