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Got milk? School children in Yemen do

WFP is running a pilot school feeding program and hopes to expand that nationwide this fall
WFP is running a pilot school feeding program and hopes to expand that nationwide this fall
WFP/Maria Santamarina

Children in Sana'a, the capital of Yemen, are drinking milk at school thanks to the UN World Food Programme (WFP). It's a pilot school feeding program for around 100 students. In addition to the milk, the children receive fortified date biscuits.

It's small now. But it's the forerunner of something huge: A national school lunch program in Yemen. WFP is working with the Ministry of Education to develop school feeding in Yemen.

What better way to fight the hunger and poverty than to distribute food at school? That is something that would change the country forever.

Food is something that millions of families in Yemen need. WFP says, "Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab region and is the 7th most food-insecure country in the world." The food provided at school is an incentive for children to attend class. When they get there the food gives them the energy to learn and grow.

WFP spokesperson Robin Lodge says the pilot school feeding is doing fine. What does concern WFP is whether they will have enough funding to expand the program to 900,000 children starting this October. WFP relies entirely on voluntary donations.

WFP says there is a shortfall of US $473.4 million for its relief activities that begin this July in Yemen. The UN food agency is also under great strain, fighting off famine in Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic.

There are decisions to be made on what foods to provide in the larger program. Lodge says it won't necessarily be the milk and biscuit program. But those decisions will be made based on the pilot, funding and logistics issues. Milk would have to be kept refrigerated on a larger scale. Powdered milk is not a likely option because it would require a mix with safe water, which cannot be assured throughout impoverished Yemen.

Since February, WFP has also been providing take-home rations to 100,000 school girls. This provides food for the student and their entire family. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis benefit. When you add the take-home rations onto the school meals there is the potential for a highly developed national feeding program in Yemen.

Again, though, it comes down to funding and support both inside Yemen and the international community. The coming months will determine whether a national school lunch program is within reach.