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School Feeding Vital to Ethiopia As Drought Revisits Region

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Lack of rainfall is placing Ethiopia at risk of a severe hunger crisis in the coming months. This development comes on the heels of last year’s massive drought in East Africa.

Map from the U.S. Famine Early Warning System shows projected food security for Ethiopia for April through June. The areas in red are listed as hunger emergencies while the orange shaded areas are in crisis, and yellow indicates that food security is under stress. (USAID FEWSNET Map)

What is called the “Belg” rains in parts of Ethiopia were late in arriving this year. Crops have not been planted in time for there to be a proper harvest.

A report from the UN World Food Programme (WFP) says in Amhara region “the area covered with Belg crops so far is less than 10 percent of the planned area….In view of the very late arrival of the rains and the associated limited planting so far, there is high probability for near total failure of Belg production in most Belg dependent areas of the country, especially those in Tigray, Amhara, and central and eastern Oromia regions.”

Coinciding with crop failures in these areas is an increase in food prices. A report from the U.S. Famine Early Warning System (FEWSNET) says, “Staple food prices have started rising again in many parts of the country, possibly due to the late start of the Belg. Prices typically do not start to seasonally rise until May.”

Ethiopia, which is also hosting refugees who fled the famine in Somalia, will need food assistance in the coming months. The school feeding program becomes urgent because this not only nourishes hungry children but keeps them in school.

The World Food Programme (WFP) helps provide school meals in Ethiopia. WFP just won a grant of $26 million for Ethiopia from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s (USDA) McGovern-Dole school meals program. However, these supplies can take as much as six months to arrive.

So WFP needs help covering the interim period until the McGovern-Dole “cavalry” gets there. With the drought and high food prices taking hold, the USDA and WFP will be working to ensure McGovern-Dole supplies arrive as soon as possible, and finding key interim sources of funding. WFP relies entirely on voluntary donations whether from the public or governments.

Judith Schuler, WFP information officer in Ethiopia, provides us an update on where WFP’s school meals program currently stands.

WFP is reaching 689,000 students currently. Do you hope to expand the program?

Currently WFP’s “Food-for-Education” programme is operational in 1186 schools in six regions. Because of resource constraints, there is no plan to expand school meal programme at the moment.

A U.S. McGovern-Dole school meals grant is on the way to help children in Ethiopia as drought has struck again. Although school feeding has historically been a major aspect of U.S. foreign policy, the McGovern-Dole program may only receive $184 million in funding this year. (photo credit: WFP/Rein Skullerud)

What is the funding shortage that you are currently facing?

The funding requirement for 2012 is US$28.5 million and the shortfall for 2012 is about US$17.4 million.

Is the school feeding a lunch/breakfast ration? Is there a take home ration aspect?

The school meal is provided either as a breakfast or a mid-morning snack. But in schools where there are two shifts , the morning shift students receive the meal mid-morning and the afternoon shift students receive the meal at mid-day before they start classes in the afternoon. A take-home ration of vegetable oil is provided to girls to encourage attendance in the pastoralist areas of the country and where girls’ attendance is lower due to economic and cultural reasons. Currently 127,000 girls in pastoral areas are benefitting from the programme.

It is critical that the U.S. and international community ensure that child feeding programs are provided during this time of great drought and conflict throughout East Africa (WFP photo)

What percentage of the school feeding is for refugees and what is for the population of Ethiopia?

The School Meal programme for refugees is a separate programme and is run as part of the Refugee Operation. Currently, 35,000 refugee children in all refugee camps benefit from the programme. The regular School Meal programme targets 3 percent of the primary school children in the country.

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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.