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Covid-19 put world school feeding programs at risk

Covid-19 put world school feeding programs at risk

Havana, Dec 28 (Prensa Latina) The World Food Program (WFP) warned of a drastic increase in food insecurity in Latin America and the Caribbean, of up to 300 percent in some countries of the region, due to Covid- 19.
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Due to the pandemic generated by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, the massive suspension of face-to-face education during 2020 and 2021 put one of the fundamental social protection mechanisms at risk: school feeding programs.

A whole generation had their education interrupted due to the closure of schools and at the peak of the first wave of infections around 1.6 billion children and young people did not have access to the classrooms.

Even today, more than 500 million are still unable to resume their education, a tragedy that also threatens the health, development and well-being of millions of vulnerable children who lost their access to precious free meals.

For many, the nutritious meals they receive at school are probably the only ones they eat all day.

WFP data indicated that at the beginning of the year, 370 million minors were unable to receive their food allowances in educational centers, putting their lives and futures at risk.

For Latin America, this assistance routinely covers more than 85 million infants, with an investment of 4.3 billion dollars to provide food to students of all levels of education, focused on those with the greatest economic needs.

It is estimated that almost all of these children and adolescents stopped receiving school meals during the first days of sanitary restrictions -sometimes even for weeks or months- until the programs were able to restart.

Although there are still no studies that measure the consequences of this measure, negative effects on food, nutrition security and education are expected, especially for the most vulnerable.

The closure of schools and the suspension of food programs also had a direct economic effect on producers, especially those from family and local agriculture.

Even though the transfer from face-to-face to distant education made it possible to maintain some type of pedagogical link with students, the relationship was weaker with those with fewer resources, with difficult access to the platforms used (virtual, television or radio classes).

Due to this, this crisis is expected to be accompanied by an increase in school dropout rates, especially of girls and young people who were involved in family care tasks or paid work, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund .

There is also fear of an increase in child labor: the International Labor Organization and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimated an increase of between 100,000 and 300,000 children and adolescents employed.

In a context of uncertainty and vulnerability, loss of employment and sources of income, and the risk of a drastic increase in food insecurity, these plans gained a central role, including as a mechanism to assist other vulnerable people and households.

However, reality showed that the programs were not prepared to face a crisis of this magnitude, with schools closed, mobility restrictions, social distancing and urgent and widespread needs.

This experience makes it possible to highlight some lessons to make school feeding systems more sustainable and to cope with future situations of different kinds (for example, natural disasters), as an instrument of social protection.

Hence the need for government support to make them resilient and flexible, a premise defended by the WFP for the sake of rapid and effective responses to large-scale shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

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