GENEVA - The U.N. World Food Program warns it may be forced to end school meals for more than 1.3 million children in west and central Africa unless it receives $48 million.
School begins in September and October in Cameroon, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. More than half-a-million children in those countries are likely to be deprived of life-saving school meals, according to the WFP.
Another 700,000 children in 11 other countries will no longer receive the crucial meals when their schools start later in the year.
Bettina Luescher, WFP spokeswoman, says the vital programs are endangered because of the competing humanitarian crises around the world.
The situation in west and central Africa is especially critical, she says, because WFP is the sole or main provider of school meals in most of the region.
"Families rely on this. If we cannot deliver this, they often are really stuck,” Luescher said. “What could happen is that families take their children out of school. We have seen that all over the world — if money is being spent on school meals, the whole country will profit, the family will profit, the villages will profit."
Without those WFP meals, she says, children who go to school on an empty stomach cannot concentrate, and many will become malnourished.
"What it means is they … will never be as productive in the long run as other children would be,” Luescher added. “School meals help the children, especially girls, get an education."
Studies by the WFP on the cost of hunger show that for every dollar invested in school meals, there is an overall $3 to $8 economic return.