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KHARTOUM – The United Nations World Food Programme today praised decisions by governors of three Sudan States to renew and expand their support to WFP school meals by committing precious resources to monitoring, transport and other support. WFP urged international donors to follow suit.

Providing a daily meal at school for children boosts school attendance, improves child nutrition and helps children concentrate in school. Access to education is a key government priority at both the federal and state level, especially in the wake of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and WFP aims to more than double the reach of its school meals to one million children throughout the country.

“It is a very simple idea, and it works,” said WFP Sudan Regional Director Ramiro Lopes da Silva. “In North Kordofan, for example, schools with WFP meals saw a 71 percent increase in enrolment over 12 months. In Kassala, where access to school for girls is traditionally low, enrolment rates for girls have increased from 15 percent in 2004 to 28 percent in 2005.”

Lopes da Silva said he was very encouraged by the decisions of the Governors of North Kordofan, Kassala and Red Sea State to renew and expand their commitment to this programme, and by indications that a similar agreement would follow in South Kordofan.

“We appreciate that these governments are using their own, limited resources to support this programme, and the partnership that we already have with regional education ministries and schools will become even stronger,” he said.

The agreements will see the State Governments assisting with monitoring, and providing training for teachers and cooks, to help link the meals with school gardening efforts. Students learn new agricultural skills, which are in turn passed on to their families, while the garden produce adds variety and nutritional balance to school meals. In Red Sea, the state government provides take-home rations for families that allow their children to attend school.

The agreements will see the State Governments assisting with monitoring, rehabilitation and construction of storage facilities, as well as meal supplements and secondary food transportation. In addition, WFP will support training for teachers and cooks to help link the meals with school gardening.

“School meals work best in partnership, with education authorities and schools, and with our fellow UN agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization and UNICEF,” Lopes da Silva said.

“There is one partner that I have not mentioned, the international donor community, but sadly this year they have been slow to step forward. The response to our appeals for funding in Sudan has been painfully slow.”

Lopes da Silva said Sudan had the potential to produce enough food to feed all its people, but education was crucial for that potential to be realized.

In 2006 in Sudan, WFP’s development-focused Country Programme targets 320,000 children. Its Emergency Operation aims to provide school meals for 646,200 children across the country, targeting schools in strife-torn Darfur, as well as the South, the East and the Three Areas (formerly known as the transitional areas). Both the Country Programme and Emergency Operation are under-funded.

“When I look at our work plans for Sudan for 2006, it is the school meals segment that represents the future,” Lopes da Silva said. “Southern Sudan has the lowest school enrolment ratio in the world, just 20 percent.”

“Providing school meals is a practical way to address this. But, right now, we just don’t have the money. If we have to cross off school meals, we are crossing off the future. And that is a tragedy.”

WFP’s 2006 Emergency Operation, requiring US$ 746 million faces a shortfall of 83 percent. Donors include: the United States (US$114 million), Canada (US$3.9 million), Ireland (US$1.2 million), Italy (US$1.2 million), Switzerland (US$757,575), Belgium (US$604,595), Norway (US$317,388), Private (US$ 20,000).

WFP’s 2002-2006 Country Programme, requiring US$46 million, faces a 48 percent shortfall. Donors include: multilateral donors (US$18 million), Italy (US$3 million), France (US$1.2 million), Private (US$1.1 million), Japan (US$500,000).