Malnutrition and the School Meal: Alarm Bell

Muawad Mustafa Rashid

Specialized reports revealed the existence of more than 6 million children in Sudan suffering from hunger and needing at least school meals to curb the drop-out phenomenon, besides reducing the rate of stunted growth among school kids.

Globally nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 are attributed to nutrition, undernutrition puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections, increases the frequency and severity of such infections, and delays recovery.

In this regard, Sabah Sudan for Development Foundation has organized its first-ever conference under the slogan (Local School Meal for the Sake of Sustainable Development).

Director of the National Council for Children Welfare, Dr. Abdul Gadir Abu said that about six million children are suffering from hunger.

He added that their recent tour revealed an increase in stunting rate due to the malnutrition in each of Kassala and Gedaref States besides some other states despite the existence of food, attributing that to the absence of strategic mentality in dealing with such crucial issues.

For his part, the Director of the school meal directorate at the Ministry of Education, Al-Tijani Al-Tayeb, emphasized the importance of school meals as it leads to the decline in drop-out rate by more than 30%.

He expressed sorrow for the absence of a national school meal for the children because Sudan depends on the WFP, pointing out that only 31% of the basic level school children in the most vulnerable areas are getting school meals due to the non-existence of the school meal in the last two years, pointing out that the school meal program had started in 1969 and kept up until 2010 but since then it has been continuously declining.

He affirmed that there are more than 5 million school children are in need of school meals, adding that the issue requires more effort, especially after the withdrawal of the donors.

The school meal helps the children in resistance, hence avoiding chronic diseases.

I recall that in the year 2015 The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) signed an agreement with DAL dairy factory to provide locally produced milk to 5000 malnourished primary school children in Red Sea State.

The Red Sea State at that time registered the highest rate of malnutrition in Sudan, according to a nutrition survey.

The USAID aimed at the underlying causes of poverty and marginalization in Sudan, and by partnering with the private sector. Its mission at that time was successful.

We also recall that in 2020   the World Food Programme (WFP) expanded the school feeding program across 15 states and over 100 localities to reach 1.8 million people to support Sudan to scale up and establish a nationally-owned school feeding program, underpinned by a national policy framework.

School feeding programs have been defined by the World Bank as “targeted social safety nets that provide both educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children, thereby increasing and improving food security at the household level.”

Why doesn’t our private sector, NGOs, civil society organizations and the Sudanese Business Federation take the lead and work out an emergency plan to deal with the issue, especially since the school year will start next week in most parts of the country?

School meals should be included in the social responsibility items in all public and private institutions.

I propose the formation of a specialized committee to conduct an immediate survey to determine the areas which need urgent assistance after which priorities should be set to guarantee a stable school year and avoid drop-outs.

The issue requires a huge campaign from all media outlets to show the disastrous impact of the absence of school meals, and in particular the dop-out phenomenon.

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