In partnership with the World Bank, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has signed an agreement with the Government of Egypt to support its Early Childhood Education Enhancement Project (ECEEP). The US$108-million project is designed to increase access to more than one million children in kindergartens in 18 food-insecure governorates in Upper Egypt and North Sinai.
The ceremony was attended by Egypt’s Minister of Education, Ahmed Gamal Eldin Moussa.
As part of the five-year project, which starts in September, WFP has agreed to collaborate with the Government of Egypt to begin distributing a fortified high-energy snack to more than one million children under the age of five.
“Making sure children get into school early not only ensures they will be healthy but also gives them a better chance to be educated,” said Jean-Jacques Graisse, WFP’s Senior Deputy Executive Director, who signed the agreement on behalf of WFP. “Developing healthy well-educated citizens for future generations is unquestionably a sound investment for any country,” he added.
Poverty and inadequate food consumption continue to plague a large part of Egypt’s 68 million people, who live on less than four percent of the country’s arable land. Children, in particular, are hit hard. Over 15 percent of children under five are severely or moderately stunted and nearly four percent are underweight. This is almost double the figures for 2000.
As part of the agreement, WFP will have to raise US$16 million to purchase the required food commodities. Other key areas of the project will include civil works and maintenance to be financed through a World Bank loan to Egypt of US$20 million, technical assistance and grants provided by other donors, and a commitment from the Government of Egypt to finance the remainder. “The success of the project is highly dependant on the support of the donor community,” Graisse said.
While Egypt is working hard to expand early childhood education from 13 percent of the population to 60 percent by 2010, poor families continue to face daunting obstacles to send their children to school. “Our hope is to get them into the educational system as soon as possible to provide them with a good foundation for future quality learning and opportunities for better livelihoods later on,” said Bishow Parajuli, WFP Country Director in Egypt.
Through its food assistance, WFP not only hopes to stimulate parents to send their children to school but also to improve the nutritional status and intellectual retention of the children who do attend.
“Hunger impairs learning. If we can attack hunger, we can enhance the ability of these children to concentrate and the quality of their learning will improve,” Parajuli said. WFP opened its office in Egypt in 1963, and over the years, has provided the country with food aid assistance valued at US$636 million. It is currently assisting 500,000 people, through a combination of development projects, including school feeding.