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WFP to give nearly 1 million children in Bangladesh a food boost in school

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Bangladesh
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WFP
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DHAKA - The United Nations World Food Programme today launched a massive school feeding programme for more than 900,000 children in Bangladesh that stands as one of the best investments in the economic future of this impoverished South Asian nation.
Accompanied by Begum Jahanara, Special Advisor for Primary Education to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister, WFP officials attended the distribution of a high-nutrition snack at a school in one of the urban slums of the capital. The students every morning get a 75-gram packet of high-energy biscuits containing 300 kilocalories and 80 percent of the daily requirement for vitamins and minerals.

With some 400,000 schoolchildren currently getting the biscuits, WFP's school feeding programme will by 2004 cover 925,000 Bangladeshi children, making it one of the largest school feeding programmes in the world.

"In the 21st century, there is no possibility whatsoever of economic development without education," declared Pieter Dijkhuizen, WFP's Country Director for Bangladesh. "The examples in Asia of economic success clearly demonstrate that only skilled, trained and educated people can break the circle of poverty."

Bangladesh has some of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, with some 60 percent of the children failing to complete primary school. Additionally, more than 50 percent of Bangladeshis are malnourished and 26 million of the total population of 130 million consume fewer than 70 percent of the daily recommended intake of 2,100 kilocalories a day.

The school feeding programme, launched in 2001 as a pilot project for 225,000 schoolchildren in flood-damaged southwestern Bangladesh, is underway in areas where people have the most difficulty getting enough to eat - the Kurigram, Kushtia, Barisal and Mymensingh regions, plus the urban slums of Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi and Sylhet.

In schools where the children are receiving the mid-morning snack, teachers and WFP field staff report that the biscuits are an incentive for them to come to school and a means of keeping them there. Children who don't get a school snack are wont to go home at the lunch break and not return.

WFP has taken the leading role in school feeding programmes in the developing world because a nutritious school snack generates a jump in attendance and enrolment rates, enhances a child's ability to learn, and is the single most important instrument in getting girls into school. Studies show that girls who go to school marry later and have fewer children; education helps girls take control of their lives.

"This school feeding programme has the firm and committed support of the Government of Bangladesh and the WFP donor countries because there is a recognition that today's economy is built on information technology and a supply of knowledgeable workers," Dijkhuizen asserted.

"What is equally important, people with basic primary education, even if they do not go on to higher learning, have a greater understanding of the world around them and their rights within it. When you can read and write, you can think, question, analyse and, only thus, participate in a democratic society," he said.

WFP chose high-energy biscuits as the food for the school feeding programme because they are made with such micronutrients as Vitamins A and B, zinc, folate and iron. The first fortified biscuits to be produced in Bangladesh, they are made in commercial bakeries under contract to WFP.

WFP has received financial support for the first four years of the school feeding programme, but is urging donors to be prepared to step in as of 2005. "There is virtually no better tool to give the next generation of Bangladeshis than education," Dijkhuizen said.

WFP is the United Nations' front-line agency in the fight against global hunger. In 2001, WFP fed more than 77 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign - As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Pieter Dijkhuizen, Country Director, WFP Bangladesh, Tel: + 880-2-811-3573, Cell: + 880-1-822-1901

Heather Hill, Regional Public Affairs Officer, Asia, Tel: + 662-6554115 ext. 2020 Cell: + 661-7019208, E-mail: heather.hill@wfp.org