Forty percent of primary school-aged children in Sri Lanka too thin

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) says 40 percent of primary school-aged children in Sri Lanka are too thin.

The WFP and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) are providing US$400,000 (LKR 74 million) to the Ministry of Education (MoEd) towards the National School Meal Programme.

The WFP says 80,000 primary school children will receive one month’s worth of food rations to help them and their families cope with the school closures due to COVID-19.

The contribution is reflective of the long-standing partnership between WFP and the Government of Sri Lanka and WFP’s continued support for the country’s flagship National School Meal Programme since 2003.

It will enable the Ministry of Education to commence the first phase of the take-home ration programme, while further resources are mobilized by MoED to expand the programme.

“The generous funding contribution from the Government of Australia is very timely,” says Brenda Barton, WFP Country Director in Sri Lanka.

“Already, 40 percent of all primary school-aged children are too thin. For many children, the meal they get in school is often the only meal they will get in a day. Take-home food rations will be key to help safeguard children’s health and nutrition during this difficult time when the country is battling COVID.”

The packages comprise eggs, lentils and other dry commodities specified by the MoEd, to ensure diet diversity for children and their families.

Distribution will start later this month to children at schools identified by the MoEd in the Central, Uva, Northern and Eastern Provinces. After this initial phase, the take-home rations will subsequently be extended by the MoEd to all schools covered by the National School Meal Programme.

“The Government’s decision to close schools within 48 hours of Sri Lanka’s first Covid-19 case, was integral in preventing the spread of the virus” says the Minister of Education and Sports, Dullas Alahapperuma.

“We recognise the importance of sustaining the National School Meal Programme amidst these school closures. We are thankful to WFP and the Government of Australia for providing us with funds to supply take-home rations to children covered by the School Meal Programme.”

Globally, WFP has supported school meals since 1963 as an essential safety net which helps bolster children’s access to education, health and nutrition. In Sri Lanka, over 1.1 million primary school children have been receiving mid-day meals through the Government-funded National School Meals Programme. The take-home ration method has also been widely used by WFP, even before COVID-19, when restrictions arise such as limited access to schools.

The devastating economic impact of COVID-19 has highlighted the need to ensure food security for Sri Lankans. WFP will continue to work with the Government of Sri Lanka to complement the National School Meal Programme by supporting locally-grown food production and value chains through smallholder farmers. Furthermore, WFP is supporting MoEd on measures such as in-school handwashing stations, in preparation for the re-opening of schools. (Colombo Gazette)

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