The Covid-19 pandemic is reversing the advancement of school meals access to the children, a decade of hard-won gains in global efforts to provide nutritious food to the world's most vulnerable children through a free daily meal in school, the United Nations World Food Programme said in a report.
One in two schoolchildren, or 388 million children worldwide, were receiving school meals when the pandemic struck, the highest number in history, according to the State of School Feeding Worldwide report.
By April 2020, 199 countries had closed their schools and 370 million children were suddenly deprived of what for many was their only nutritious meal of the day.
Calling for global action to back pre-pandemic level the report said,
For governments, the lockdowns shone a spotlight on the critical role played by school feeding in supporting the most vulnerable children and protecting their futures.
World Food programme (WFP), Executive Director David Beasley, said "School feeding is a game changer - for children, for communities and for countries, that one meal a day is often the reason hungry children go to school in the first place. It's also a powerful incentive to make sure they'll come back after lockdown ends. We need to get these programmes running again - even better than before - to stop Covid destroying the futures of millions of the world's most vulnerable children."
In 2021, WFP will build a coalition to support governments in the scale up of school meals programmes, working with development agencies, donors, the private sector and civil society organizations, the report said.
Between 2013 and 2020, the number of children receiving school meals grew by 9 percent globally and 36 percent in low-income countries, as governments expanded their programmes and made school feeding the world's most extensive social safety net.
Studies have shown that in the life of a child from a poor family, school meals can have a major impact. They stave off hunger, support long-term health and help a child learn and thrive. This is especially true for girls: in places where there is a school meals programme, girls stay in school longer, child marriage rates go down and teen pregnancies decrease.
The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, the world's largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.