In Southern Africa, the country of Swaziland has food shortages due to poor harvests in recent years. Drought, high fuel costs, and the prevalence of AIDS have contributed to these shortages. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is helping the children of Swaziland through school feeding programs. Abdoulaye Balde, WFP Country Director for Swaziland, discusses school feeding in the following interview.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP school feeding programs within the country?
There are 78,000 students benefiting from WFP school feeding programs in Swaziland.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition.
Swaziland is a country of approximately one million people. It has one of the highest, if not the highest, HIV infection rates in the world, with 26% of all people 15 to 49 years old infected. The pandemic has generated 80,000 orphans, a number estimated to rise to 120,000 by 2010. The country has experienced seven consecutive years of drought. About 40% of the population has been dependent on food assistance since 2002.
Many students go to school without eating at home in the morning, and the food provided in the school canteen program is often the only reliable meal of the day. Consequently, the meals given by WFP contribute to improved attendance, attentiveness, and punctuality. Absenteeism and dropouts have also decreased substantially. Rural schools performed best in the past three years (2005-2007) and even government officials attribute the improved ranking of rural schools to the positive effects of the School Feeding Program. Nutritional status of children has not been measured at schools, but teachers report improvement because fewer children are sick and children even looking better, as they have no more sores or rashes.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
There are 574 primary schools in Swaziland with approximately 200,000 pupils. WFP is currently serving meals in 177 schools and aims to reach a total of 200. The government would like to see school feeding activities expanded to all primary and secondary schools, but is not providing the lead through national policy or budget allocations. WFP is actively involved in trying to assist the education partners to define the role and responsibilities of all involved in school feeding in the country, including the central government. The National Emergency Response Council (NERCHA) provides food to 354 primary schools on a very irregular basis with funds made available here from the Global Fund, but this source of funding is drying up.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?
The partners are looking up to government and the round seven of the Global Fund to provide regular support to primary school pupils, but we are really advocating for a policy that recognizes the value of school feeding in the development of education in the country, under the combined tragedies of HIV/AIDS, climate change, high food prices, and limited human resources capacity in the country.
What has been the effect of high food prices on this funding effort?
The WFP country office had sufficient food in the pipeline when the project expired in April 2008. When the project was immediately renewed, the transfer of the food commodities and a good part of the funds that cover related expenses gave the country office a buffer against the high food prices. We will feel the impacts of high food prices mostly after January 2009. Efforts must be doubled to keep the main donors informed.
How can someone help the school feeding program?
In addition to food supply, which WFP has been able to sustain, there is a need for improvement in water supply, as a majority of the schools are facing critical water shortages. This has resulted in some schools not being able to cook food on some days. There is also a need for proper kitchen facilities/shelters. The concept of "school as a center of care and support" that has been run as a pilot program in 40 schools needs to be expanded, with a commitment to include a minimum service package that will provide a sustainable learning environment.
Anything else you'd like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?
Education is key in helping children from underprivileged families to attain similar levels of achievement as their peers from well-to-do families. Education is a fundamental basis for freedom, democracy, and self-esteem, and school feeding provides an incentive for poor families to send their children to school.