School meals resume in Cambodia after COVID-19 interruptions
Cambodia, 08 February 2021 – More than 39 billion in-school meals have been missed globally since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to school closures, according to a new report released by the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti and the World Food Programme (WFP). COVID-19: Missing More Than a Classroom also notes that 370 million children worldwide – many of whom are reliant on school meals as a key source of their daily nutrition – have missed 40 per cent of in-school meals, on average, since COVID-19 restrictions shuttered classrooms.
In Cambodia, approximately 280,000 school children in 1,113 schools across ten provinces missed free nutritious school meals during the nationwide school closure to curb the COVID-19 spread. Data from the Cambodia COVID-19 Joint Education Needs Assessment 2020, commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport and the Education Sector Working Group, indicates that 40% of children consume fewer meals per day now compared to before the pandemic. Of these children, over 50 percent are from households already poor and reliant on national social assistance systems.
A UN COVID-19 socio-economic impact assessment in Cambodia further indicates that although availability of food has not been affected greatly, many people have been forced by economic circumstances to adopt coping strategies including borrowing food, reducing food intake and greater reliance on cheaper less nutritious food options. Fortunately, school feeding has resumed with the re-opening of schools in Cambodia earlier this month, phased in to resume in all the schools with meal programmes supported by the Government and WFP by March 2021.
UNICEF and WFP welcome the resumption of school feeding alongside the re-opening of schools.
Claire Conan, WFP Representative and Country Director noted that, “School health and nutrition programmes mitigate hunger and serve as a powerful incentive for children to return to school. This is especially true for the most vulnerable children, who rely most on school meals and for whom home-schooling is least available”.
Foroogh Foyouzat, UNICEF’s Country Representative in Cambodia, said: "With schools now open again, it's important that school nutrition and support programmes also resume. While continued measures should be taken to minimise the risk of COVID-19, schools provide a perfect opportunity to help children, at a very young age, adopt healthy eating behaviours that can last a lifetime. Nutrition education and school meals are powerful tools that will help children stay healthy and learn better."
WFP has supported Governments across the world to adapt their school meals programmes during school closures caused by the pandemic. In Cambodia, WFP partnered with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports to continue supporting school children from 90,000 of the poorest households with take-home school meal rations during the closures. UNICEF and WFP then partnered with the Ministry on the safe re-opening of schools, ensuring nutrition messages were communicated to teachers, parents and students.
UNICEF and WFP are urging Governments around the world to re-open and keep schools open with proper precautions against COVID-19 in place, while also making sure that the health, food and nutritional needs of children are met through comprehensive, quality school nutrition programmes.
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