The empty lunch box

For many children, school provides not just education but a healthy meal. The United Nations report “State of School Feeding Worldwide 2020” reveals how the pandemic has hit those who have the least the hardest.

Ms Krüger, what do you see as the most important findings of the State of School Feeding Worldwide report published by the United Nations World Food Programme? 

On the positive side, at the beginning of 2020, more children had access to food at school than ever before. Unfortunately, the report also shows that the corona pandemic has reversed much of this progress. School does more than just providing education. It forms part of a safety net.

Free school meals help children develop healthily. When Save the Children was founded in 1919, we organised school meals for children in Germany after the First World War.

Why are school meals so important? 

School meals are an extra incentive for parents to send their children to school. Sometimes children attend for that reason alone. That is why children from poor families are often best targeted through schools. But school closures in the wake of the pandemic meant about 1.6 billion children did not go to school last year. Many have likely dropped out of school by now.

“Free school meals support the healthy development of children”

We know from the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone in 2014 that after ten months of school closures, the majority of girls did not return to school. The reasons for this include early marriages, pregnancies and child labour.

Currently, the example of the USA shows how, school means not only lessons, but also a safe meal for many children. The UN report on the "State of School Meals" makes it clear, however, that this is not a matter of course in pandemic times. Since schools there have been closed, children's health has deteriorated massively. Without aid organisations, the children's situation would be even more precarious. NGOs are filling this gap and are increasingly responsible for providing meals, but often at the expense of their own educational services.

How does the pandemic affect children in particularly precarious circumstances?

Devastatingly. The report shows that that families increasingly have difficulties putting enough healthy food on the table. Our studies also show this. In India, we conducted a survey among poor households to find out what their food supply situation was like: 85 percent said they could no longer afford food.

Many people have lost their jobsduring the pandemic and can therefore no longer provide for their children. But malnutrition has long-term effects. Its after-effects cannot be easily treated. 

Shortages lead to growth disorders and developmental delays. Children from poor households are affected twice as often as those from rich households. This applies to all countries worldwide.

Read full report here:
Translated by Jess Smee