Futures of 370 million children in jeopardy as school closures deprive them of school meals – UNICEF and WFP

MONROVIA – As the COVID-19 crisis pushes up levels of hunger among the global poor, the World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF are urging national governments to prevent devastating nutrition and health consequences for the 370 million children missing out on school meals amid school closures.

“In Liberia, as part of its COVID-19 emergency response programme, WFP in collaboration with the Ministry of Education is providing take-home dry rations to all the nearly 100,000 girls and boys for use by their entire households as a way of averting child hunger and encouraging the children to continue studying their lessons at home,” said Karla Hershey, World Food Programme Representative and Country Director in Liberia.

School meals in Liberia are especially critical for girls as a conduit for increased retention and learning, paving a pathway for alleviating poverty and reaching Zero Hunger. WFP has therefore prioritized the provision of school meals through an inclusive approach involving the Government of Liberia and key stakeholders. WFP’s school meals programme is one of the largest social safety net programmes in Liberia reaching almost 100,000 boys and girls.

“A school in Liberia is much more than a place for learning. For many children it is a safe environment where children thrive, play and enjoy a healthy growth with their peers. Now is the time to act, lifesaving services must be provided for the most vulnerable children to avoid a devastating fallout caused by COVID-19 that could affect generations,” said Laila O. Gad, UNICEF Representative in Liberia.

Alongside school meal programmes, children often benefit from health services – such as vaccinations – delivered through their schools. In Liberia, 1.5 million children are currently out of school as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic, out of which a total of 270,000 school children were provided with school feeding in 12 counties through different programmes.

In response to a recent report from the United Nations Secretary-General, which highlighted the number of children missing out on school meals, WFP and UNICEF are working with governments to support children who are out of school during the crisis. In 68 countries, governments and WFP are providing children with take-home rations, vouchers or cash transfers as an alternative to school meals.

Under the partnership, WFP and UNICEF will assist governments in the coming months to ensure that when schools reopen returning children benefit from school meals and health programmes. This will also provide an incentive for parents to send their children back to school. The agencies are also working together to track children in need of school meals through an online School Meals map.

To support this work – which will initially focus on 30 low-income or fragile countries to support 10 million children – UNICEF and WFP are appealing for US$ 600 million. Their work will be closely aligned with the UNESCO-led Global Education Coalition, a global push to ensure children keep learning despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19.

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