Protecting poor children from the impending food crisis by Biniam Bedasso

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The war in Ukraine is further disrupting the global food supply and making it harder for the world’s poorest households to afford adequate nutrition. For the world’s most vulnerable children, school meals are a vital social protection tool that must now be scaled up.

LONDON — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine threatens to further disrupt the global food system by dramatically increasing the cost of staple foods and the energy needed to transport them. The Black Sea region is responsible for exporting at least 12% of global food calories, so cutting off access will have far-reaching effects.

Food prices were already skyrocketing due to post-pandemic market imbalances and supply chain pressures, as well as climate-related production losses. By the end of last year, the crisis in the world market for wheat and maize had pushed up food inflation in sub-Saharan Africa by 11%. Now poor countries face another shock at a time when they have little room to accommodate it.

Even before the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, vulnerable households in developing countries spent a large part of their budget on food. Further increases in the cost of food could lead children in these households to suffer significant and irreversible nutritional losses. They might go to school hungry or even drop out to help supplement their family’s income. Given the massive learning losses suffered by children in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) due to pandemic-related school closures, any further disruption could have devastating consequences.

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