Around 300 million children who need school meals are missing due to closures triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the World Food Program said on Friday.
The WFP noted that more than 860 million children – about half of the world's student population – had to stay away from schools and universities due to arrests that were supposed to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Hundreds of thousands of children not only miss learning, but also free school lunches, according to the UN agency.
The WFP said that almost nine million of the 18 million children who feed the organization themselves from school meals in 61 countries no longer received them.
The agency said it is considering alternative ways to provide food to children outside school, including take-away meals.
"Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 300 million elementary school children are now missing out on school meals that they depend on," WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in an online briefing from Geneva.
She warned that the number of children deprived of school meals provided by the WFP "will increase in the coming days and weeks."
"In countries where schools are closed, the WFP is examining possible alternatives."
"This includes providing takeaway rations instead of meals, delivering groceries home, and providing cash or coupons," she said.
Byrs emphasized that without alternative solutions, many children around the world who are excluded from school would otherwise go hungry.
She said the idea of rations to go would benefit not only children but also their families.
The governments of wealthy countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Canada have introduced special mechanisms to ensure that their poorest school children do not go hungry.
However, the situation is much more precarious for children living in countries that are experiencing extreme poverty and armed conflict and whose health systems are weak or almost nonexistent.
"We can switch to online learning, but not to online food. Some solutions are needed," Carmen Burbano, director of the WFP's School Food Department, told AFP.
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