World 'hunger catastrophe' puts 370 million children at risk

PHOTO CREDIT: WFP/Annabel Symington

ROME – As coronavirus pushes up levels of hunger, 370 million children are at risk due to school closures which deprive them of school meals, according to The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and World Food Programme (WFP) joint statement. The UN organisations have urged national governments to prevent what will otherwise be devastating nutrition and health consequences.

  School meals are especially critical for girls, because in many poor countries the promise of a meal can be enough to make struggling parents send their daughter to school, allowing her to escape domestic duties, early marriage, and threats to their safety.

  “For millions of children around the world, the meal they get at school is the only meal they get in a day. Without it, they go hungry, they risk falling sick, dropping out of schooland losing their best chance of escaping poverty. We must act now to prevent the health pandemic from becoming a hunger catastrophe,” said David Beasley, the WFP Executive Director. 

  WFP and UNICEF are working with governments to support children who are out of school during the crisis, and to support their work, the UN agencies have appealed for 600 million dollars. 

  Currently, national governments and WFP are providing children with take-home rations, vouchers, or cash transfers as an alternative to school meals, in 68 different countries.

  Alongside various nutrition programmes, children in poor countries often benefit from vaccinations, deworming, and iron supplementation that can be delivered through their schools. “The devastating fallout caused by COVID-19 will be felt for decades to come,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.