School feeding programmes are a lifeline for millions of children across the world. However, nearly 40 billion in school meals were missed during the COVID-19 pandemic and this looming nutrition crisis could put a whole generation at risk, according to a report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Office of Research: Inocenti, and the World Food Programme (WFP)
The report “COVID-19: Missing More Than a Classroom: The impact of school closures on children’s nutrition” published last week called for leveraging the power of school feeding programmes to encourage children, especially girls and the vulnerable, to return to school.
Calling for giving priority to reopen schools, the report suggested adaptation of traditional school feeding programmes like take-home rations or cash transfers. This will help the children with vital source of support and food. The report also recommended to Identify and reach out to vulnerable children in the first 8,000 days who are at greatest risk of deteriorating nutrition outcomes due to closure of school feeding programmes.
UNICEF Executive Director Fore Henrietta said that millions of children faced school closures around the world despite evidence that schools are not primary drivers of the pandemic. Children who depend on schools for their daily meals are not only missing an education but also on a reliable source of nutrition, the report noted.
WFP Executive Director David Beasley pointed out that missing nutritious school meals is jeopardizing the futures of millions of the world’s poorest children. “We must support governments to safely reopen schools and start feeding those children again. For many, the nutritious meal they get in school is the only food they will receive all day.” Beasley said.
As per UNESCO estimation, about 1.6 billion children in 199 countries worldwide were affected by school closures. School closure led to missing of about 39 billion in-school meals. The report states that school feeding programs are critical part of encouraging children back to school and keeping them enrolled after the crisis. School feeding could increase enrolment and attendance rates, especially for girls and the most disadvantaged children.