UN food agency calls for support of global school feeding programme for poorest children

UN food agency calls for support of global school feeding programme for poorest children

In the lead-up to a landmark United Nations summit on children, the head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) today called on world leaders to commit to a global plan of action to solve malnutrition and illiteracy among the 300 million chronically hungry youngsters.

With the special session of the General Assembly set for 8 to 10 May in New York, WFP Executive Director James Morris urged heads of State and government to embrace a global school feeding programme that he said could dramatically better the lives of impoverished children and quickly address a number of related problems.

"Using food to attract poor children to school and to keep them there is a surprisingly simple but effective way to make an impact," Mr. Morris said. "A school feeding programme that is truly global in scale would immediately make a difference in the lives of children now."

According to WFP, 170 million of the world's 300 million chronically hungry children are often forced to learn on empty stomachs because they receive no food at school; the rest do not attend class at all. Over 60 per cent of these children are girls.

Research and experience have shown that when food is provided at school, hunger is immediately alleviated and attendance often doubles within one year, WFP said. Within two years, academic performance can improve by as much as 40 per cent and students remain in school longer and more of them graduate. Long-term studies have indicated that increased literacy rates among girls and women mean they have fewer, but healthier, children.

Over the past 40 years, WFP has become the largest provider of school meals to poor children. In 2001, thanks in large part to an initial $140 million contribution from the United States Government and subsequent donations by France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany, the agency launched a global campaign which eventually managed to feed over 15 million school children in 57 countries.