The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today launched a pilot programme to provide 172,000 Iraqi primary school children with a free daily snack at school to help boost school attendance and learning and improve food security in eight of the country’s poorest districts.
“This initiative, which we are taking to support the Ministry of Education, is one of a number of projects WFP is undertaking to assist the most vulnerable people in Iraq,” said Edward Kallon, WFP Iraq Country Director. “This is part of our overall strategy to help the Government provide social safety nets for the poorest members of the population.”
Under the school meals programme, the children will each receive an 80-gramme nutritious date bar, fortified with a range of micronutrients. As well as providing vital nourishment, the snacks will provide extra nutritional support for poor families and help keep children in school.
WFP’s school feeding experience of the last 45 years has shown that in countries where school attendance is low, the promise of at least one nutritious meal each day boosts enrolment and promotes regular attendance. Parents are motivated to send their children to school instead of keeping them at home to work or care for siblings.
The US$1.6 million pilot programme, which is scheduled to last three months, has been funded by the Government of Iraq. Next year, WFP is planning to scale up the school meals programme to cover a total of 960,000 children in the most vulnerable districts in 14 governorates.
Ceremonies to launch the operation took place today at schools in Sulaymaniyah Governorate in Kurdistan Region and in Wassit Governorate in central Iraq, attended by government officials and WFP staff. Schools in Diyala and Ninewa Governorates will also be included in the programme.
The date bars are currently being produced in Egypt, but there are plans in future to produce them in Iraq and develop manufacturing capacity through the private sector. This is in line with WFP’s corporate strategy of purchasing locally to boost employment, promote local agriculture and stimulate the countries’ economy.
School feeding in Iraq has a long tradition, but was interrupted during the conflict. The Government asked for WFP support to revive its own school meals programme and indicated a strong interest in establishing a nationwide programme.
Achieving universal primary school education by 2015 is the second of eight Millennium Development Goals adopted by 192 countries, including Iraq. In some governorates, only 56 percent of children are enrolled in primary schools. Nine out of ten children under the age of 15 do not attend school regularly, while only 66 percent of children complete primary school education.
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