More than 370 million children have missed their only nutritious meal of the day since schools closed in the face of the Covid, according to a new World Food Programme report.
The best managed alternatives, such as take-home rations and cash-based transfers, achieved just 40 percent of the outreach needed. They served only 6.9 million of the 17 million children normally helped.
World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley said, “That one meal a day is often the reason children go to school in the first place. It’s also the reason they’ll come back after the lockdown.
“We need to get these programmes running again – even better than before – to stop Covid destroying the futures of millions of children.
“School feeding is a game changer for children, for communities and for countries.”
Its success in school feeding programmes helped the WFP win the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize because they support national resilience in the face of conflict and emergencies.
School meals supported national growth, creating 1,668 new jobs for every 100,000 children fed
But decades of work was set back in an instant when the pandemic struck. School meals had been the most extensive social safety net in history – delivering meals to half of the world’s children. About 90 per cent of the costs were being met by governments.
The WFP’s new report State of School Feeding Worldwide 2020 finds that school meal programmes laid the foundation for national growth and development, creating 1,668 new jobs for every 100,000 children fed.
It said the return on investment could be very high – with school meals having a direct impact on the local economy. Every US$1 invested could yield as much as $9 across education, health and nutrition, social protection and local agriculture.
The cost of a school feeding had changed little since 2013, remaining in 2020 at a median of US$57 per child per year.
Now the WFP wants to implement environmentally sensitive school feeding programmes which contribute to more resilient food systems.
Buying food from local farmers shortens food chains, reducing carbon emissions, and minimises food waste, as well as supporting local economies.
Child marriage and teenage pregnancies go down when school meals are provided
And more gender-sensitive programmes would keep girls in school and improve the diets of adolescents. The report said that even in conflict settings, school feeding programmes can enhance enrolment and reduce inappropriate labour, especially for girls. Child marriage rates go down and teenage pregnancies are reduced.
The report follows a January study by UNICEF and WFP which found that 39 billion school meals have been missed since the start of pandemic in April last year.
The WFP needs to scale school feeding significantly and will call on help to do so.
Director of School Feeding, Carmen Burbano told Quota she aims to establish a coalition of donors, members of the private sector and academia, to help governments improve access to school feeding programmes.
“This is a priority for the World Food Programme,” she said. “We will come together with partners to support governments, to achieve the scale up needed in a post pandemic world. That is our call to action this year.”