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School Feeding Program in Benin Under Threat

The United Nations' World Food Program warns school feeding programs in the West African country of Benin are under threat for lack of cash. WFP says tens of thousands of children in Benin will not receive a daily school meal next term unless it receives more funds immediately. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The World Food Program says $1 million will decide whether or not 70,000 children in Benin go hungry this year. WFP says $1 million is what it costs to provide these children with one meal a day during the school year. Without this money, it warns there will be no food when schools reopen in September.

WFP spokesman Simon Pluess says it is always easier to find money for emergency operations than for development activities. He calls this short-sighted. He says school feeding programs over the last 40 years have more than proven their worth.

"Kids, when they have a school meal, they will be able to learn," said Pluess. "Their parents would be encouraged to send their kids to school. So, what we see is that if we provide food at school, that the attendance rate is rising and the grades of performance of these kids is much higher."

Pluess says the school feeding program also fulfills WFP's objective of getting many more girls to attend school.

"School meals are a major incentive for families to send their girls to school because additionally they would rather send the boys to school and keep the girls at home to work," said Pluess. "But, if they see that one hungry mouth less is at home, they would feel encouraged to send their girl to school."

Last year, the World Food Program provided school meals to more than three million children across West and Central Africa. Pluess says the increase in school attendance and in the ability of children to concentrate on their lessons was impressive.

He says the children of Benin, which is one of the world's poorest countries, will miss out on these benefits if donors fail to provide the small amount of cash needed to continue the valuable school feeding program.