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Lack of cash threatens school meals in Benin

Tens of thousands of children in the West African nation of Benin will not receive a daily school meal next term unless more funds are immediately made available, WFP has warned.

WFP Benin’s school feeding programme, which reached nearly 70,000 school children in 400 schools last year, urgently requires US$1 million– the equivalent of 1,200 metric tons of maize, beans, oil and fish. Without additional funds, there will be no daily meals when schools reopen in September.

“We are afraid that there won’t be any WFP food trucks turning up at the schools next term, and if the trucks don’t come, many of the children don’t come either,” said WFP Benin Country Director Jacques Roy. “We need new donations now so that we have time to buy the food and then get it out to the schools.”

Higher attendance

The provision of school meals across West Africa has been linked both to higher attendance rates and improved concentration among students.

Because canteen supplies are purchased locally, cash contributions can be put to immediate use in Benin, particularly at the moment when local food prices are comparatively low.

In 2006, WFP provided school meals to over three million children across West and Central Africa and over 20 million in 71 countries around the world.

Studies indicate that one meal during the school day not only staves off hunger, but improves children’s ability to learn. School meals are also a major incentive for families to send their children – especially girls – to school, often resulting in higher enrollment and attendance rates.

Togolese refugees

Along with school feeding in Benin, WFP provides assistance to 5,000 Togolese refugees in the country, as well as 12,000 people living with HIV/AIDS.

WFP has been working to feed the hungry in Benin since 1964. Benin is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 163 out of 177 on the the United Nation’s Human Development Index in 2006.

Twenty-three percent of children in the country are moderately stunted, 11 percent severely stunted – a major impediment to development.

WFP’s operations in the country have been supported in the recent past by Luxembourg (US$636,000), Austria (US$13,700) as well as multilateral contributions from Norway, Denmark, Finland, Germany, China and New Zealand.