On any given day, you will see news headlines about Afghanistan. That's certainly not surprising, given the U.S. involvement there. How often do you hear news about Afghanistan's neighbor to the north, Tajikistan?
This country has faced its own challenges since gaining independence from the Soviet Union. There was a civil war in the 1990s, and a difficult reconstruction period over the last decade. More recently, high food prices and unemployment have placed a heavy burden on the population.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) provides assistance to Tajikistan. WFP studies show that "nearly two-thirds of the country's population are classified as poor, living on less than US $2.15 / day, with some 76 percent of them living in rural areas."
In 2009 I interviewed AnneMarie van den Berg about providing school meals in Tajikistan. The meals make a big difference in terms of child nutrition, class attendance and performance. WFP wants to build upon that success with a new five-year school feeding project which has just kicked off.
The children's soup is accompanied by bread made from WFP fortified wheat flour. The children have the meal after the second class of the day. (Heather Hill/WFP)
The project supports 370,000 primary school children, as well as teachers, in some of the rural parts of the country. It will consist of hot soup and bread. It's all part of a strategy to build a national school lunch program run by the government. The key is to provide meals to students while local capacity is built up to take over the programs.
To fund the five-year project, WFP needs $46.7 million. At this point only a $3.2 million donation from Russia has come through.
Alzira Ferreira, WFP Tajikistan director, says, "the funding situation is worrying and unless new donors confirm...we will be facing tough decisions and potential reductions in coverage from January 2011."
Tajikistan is now facing a critical chapter in its plans for child nutrition and education. If it gets the support necessary to turn the corner, a national school lunch program lies ahead. The alternative is the loss of a safety net for impoverished families, and nutrition and education for children will suffer.