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Interview: GianPietro Bordignon, Country Director for the World Food Programme in Egypt

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The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) helps fight hunger and poverty in Egypt. School feeding programs are especially critical for most vulnerable children. We will learn more about these programs in the following interview with GianPietro Bordignon, WFP Country Director in Egypt.

How many children are benefiting from the WFP school feeding programs within the country?

The WFP’s Food-For-Education (FFE) activity presently feeds over 84,000 children in the poorest and most vulnerable communities in Egypt; the aim is to have reached 241,000 by the end of the current Country Program 2007-2011. The children receive nutritious fortified snacks during the school day to supply them with nutrients essential to their development and concentration ability. This is in addition to over 106,000 family members who benefit from take-home rations (THRs) which act as an incentive for families to send and keep children at school. WFP distributes take-home rations primarily to families of girls on condition that the families agree upon providing the child with the basic education she needs.

Moreover, WFP provides targeted food support for single-classroom community schools that are designed to reintegrate dropouts into the education system. This is in addition to primary schools and pre-schools in selected food insecure and vulnerable governorates.

Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition

Distribution is tied to regular attendance. Students receiving school meals offered by WFP and the Government of Egypt (GoE) must have achieved an attendance rate over 90%. Furthermore, as a result of WFP assistance, both in-school meals and take-home rations are fortified with essential nutrients that improve children's performance and ability to concentrate.

What plans are there for making school lunches available for all children?

The Government of Egypt distributes snacks to primary students all over the country. It reaches over 12 million students annually with an investment of LE 354 million (US $62 million). WFP technical support enables the Ministry of Education to strengthen the design of its program and its targeting methods and improves the nutritional composition of food items offered. WFP also supports the Government of Egypt in establishing monitoring and reporting systems. Thanks to WFP policy advocacy, during the 2007/08 school year the Government of Egypt increased the annual funding allocation by LE 100 million ($18.9 million). This additional budgetary allocation will be made available over the next five years to the school feeding program budget and is reserved to the most vulnerable governorates as per WFP recommendation. It is planned that the ongoing reform process of the National School Feeding Program, as supported by WFP and other partners, should reach a sustainable mechanism of providing fortified school meals to all children.

What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?

WFP has traditionally relied on multilateral sources and directed bilateral funds to support its school feeding program. A considerable funding amount of $7.5 million was obtained under the Egyptian-Italian Debt-for-Development Swap agreement from 2003-2007, reaching a total of 225,000 primary school children. More recently, contributions from local private companies and foundations have been obtained. WFP continues to rely on all these sources to maintain the required support to its beneficiaries. This funding also helps extend the school feeding program to include the increasing number of families and their children now under threat of falling below the poverty line, who have been exposed to “hidden”’ hunger (or lack of essential micronutrients, minerals and vitamins, in their diet) as a result of the recent high food prices.

What has been the effect of rising food prices on this funding effort?

The food security of WFP’s already poor beneficiaries is now increasingly threatened as food prices have skyrocketed in recent months – cereal prices have leapt by nearly 50 percent since January 2008, and over 125 percent in the past year, according to official data. This has worsened an already alarming malnutrition situation in Egypt as anemia affects over 40% of children and 50% of women of childbearing age; iodine deficiency disorders exceed 35% in some Upper Egypt governorates and zinc deficiency is between 10% and 20%. Due to high incidence of poverty, a significant percentage of families in rural areas cannot afford to provide their families with essential nutrients, and over 40 million people rely on food subsidies to meet their basic food requirements. In Upper Egypt alone, 34.2% (almost 9 million people) live below the poverty line and an estimated 36.4% (over 9 million people) consume less than the minimum level of dietary energy required by the World Health Organization (WHO).

As a result of poverty, households resort to incurring debt, as well as taking their children out of education and into low-paying work, most of which is abusive in one way or another.

WFP strives to cover its targeted beneficiaries and is now in the process of assessing the impact of rising food prices. It is expected that the number of beneficiaries will increase exponentially as more and more families fall under the poverty line. WFP will need the support of global civil society, including operational synergies between the public and private sectors, to face this crisis and continue to provide children with the nutritional support they need to be healthy and productive.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

To support the WFP school feeding system worldwide, visit the WFP website.

WFP Egypt relies partially on private contributions that are allocated according to the Country Program priorities and WFP vulnerability assessment. For more information kindly contact
Gianpietro.bordignon@wfp.org or Souraya.Saoud@wfp.org.

Anything else you'd like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?

WFP Egypt has introduced innovative mechanisms to reach the neediest segments of the Egyptian population and children. WFP leads the joint UN Program to combat exploitative child labor. Joining efforts with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), WFP is targeting one of the most vulnerable and 'hidden' groups of society – child laborers and those at risk of joining the labor market. The project strives to work with the Government and civil society to provide effective formal and non-formal education programs and incentives to children at risk and engaged in exploitative child labor. WFP school feeding programs are offered to ensure that beneficiaries can concentrate on their studies in class without suffering the pains of an empty stomach. In 2007, approximately 3,000 children were enrolled back in school and into programs that aim to meet their special learning needs. By end of 2010, the project target is to reach over 10,000 children to be either withdrawn or prevented from engaging in exploitative child labor.

'A Story Worth Telling'

Hunger and poverty have severe implications for poor families and how they choose to use their available resources, which may consist solely of human capital. In Egypt, it is estimated that almost three million children under the age of fourteen are engaged in work, with many remaining out of classroom for long periods or permanently.

Born and raised in a poor village in the Abu Teeg district in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Assiut, Ismail has been living an extremely impoverished life with his parents and seven siblings. Ismail's father is a seasonal farmer whose meager income hardly meets his family's needs. Hence the seven-year-old Ismail had no option but to help his father on the farm for exhausting eight-hour days.

Through the "Combating Exploitative Child Labor in Egypt Project" implemented under the WFP Food for Education program, Ismail has been offered a chance to go to school for the first time in his life. He has joined a one-classroom community school in his district. School meals and family take-home rations are provided by WFP, together with tailored educational and child protection services supervised by UNICEF, and monitoring and referral through ILO, with the aim to keep children in school and out of the exploitative child labor market.

The Project has also secured a micro-credit loan for Ismail's family from a local micro-credit provider to provide alternative livelihood strategies for his family. His parents have regularly attended advocacy activities organized by the project, to raise their awareness on the importance of education and the detriments of child labor.

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.