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Ethiopia serves free school meals, as drought causes hunger


ADDIS ABABA – Endale Terefe recalls the time he went to school so hungry that he had trouble staying awake during the lesson.

READ: Ethiopian drought left 7.7 million hungry

A 14-year-old student in the capital of Ethiopia, Adis Ababa, lived with his aunt after his parents died.

"My aunt has no money to buy food," he said. "So I had to go to school without a lunch box and felt sleepy in class."

Then, three years ago, he and other college students began to receive two free school meals a day in local charity organizations.

"I am attentively attending the class," Terefe said with a smile.

Because drought in some parts of Ethiopia makes food less affordable and expensive throughout the country, millions of students, even in cities, go to school hungry – if they even go.

But while the federal government provides rural schools with free food during drought, it was the task of eating students in the capital of charity organizations.

This changed in January, when Adis Abebe's government launched its own "eating program in schools" for tens of thousands of children, aimed at combating rising urban hunger, as climate change is likely to strengthen dry times.

READ: 9.5 million people are suffering in Ethiopia

Lower yields of crops on farms in Ethiopia have led to a reduction in food stocks in cities, said Esubalew Abate, a professor of food and nutrition at the University of Addis Ababa.

The implications include rising food prices and two-digit inflation, which are severely hampering urban dwellers already struggling with housing shortages and a high level of poverty, the Thomson Reuters Foundation said.

In the past four years, the impact of droughts in rural areas of Ethiopia has been demonstrated in Addis Ababa, Abate said.

"Whenever it's drought, it's very clear that food prices are rising (in the city)," he added.

The 45-year-old Belaynesh Fereda, the mother of two children living in Addis Ababa, said the prices of many staples in the past four years have dramatically increased.

For example, the kilogram of teff – Ethiopian basic grain – has risen from 20 to 30 birr (R9.72 to R14.59), while the potato has doubled from 10 to 20 birr.

"Life in the city has become expensive," she said.

And for many children in Addis Ababa, where 80% of people live in the slums, according to the charity Habitat for Humanity, these high food prices mean going to school on an empty stomach.

The indirect effect of climate extremes on education has become clear over the period 2015-2016, when El Nino – the warming of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific – affected Ethiopia, which has already been crushed, which has shifted it to the worst drought in 50 years.

Help agencies have reported that pupils have fallen asleep or have been poor in class, the attendance rate has decreased, and the rate of dropout has increased, since the children were either too hungry to go to school or should stay at home to they would help their families find food.

In order to preserve children in the El Nino class, the Ethiopian government launched a $ 50 million Emergency Program in rural areas affected by drought, which allowed free school meals of around 6 million students within three years.

The UN World Food Program found that the program stabilized the school attendance rate, with fewer dropouts.

"Even students who have been out of school long ago returned to school," the report says.

Government Adis Abebe hoped to experience the same positive results among schoolmates who will have an eating initiative this year.

For free meals, 169 million brars were allocated to all urban elementary schools, covering over 50,000 children.

"Education for all is a global motto and access to education is a matter of justice, so the city government is responsible for eating students," said Meti Tamrat, program coordinator at the Adis Abeba Educational Office.

The City Program complements the school meal projects run by local charities, which continue to provide meals for approximately 80,000 students.

However, not all students who are in distress are yet covered, Tamrat pointed out, adding that it is too early to measure the impact of the initiative of the city government.

Research by Ye Enat Weg, which provides free school meals from 2014, showed that by 2018 school dropout rates in Adis Abeba dropped by 75%, while student results improved by 14% since 2006.

As Addis Ababa works to prevent rural drought harming education in the city, the federal government is looking to launch another food program that will support children across the country.

In accordance with the School Education Plan of the Ministry of Education for 2019, more than one million children in areas affected by drought continue to be hungry.

Meanwhile, the Early Warning Systems Network has warned that most households in five regions of Ethiopia are facing food shortages in a crisis until September 2019 due to a combination of drought and conflict.

Instead of offering free school meals only in times of emergency, the federal government wants to run current programs in all primary schools, said Bereket Takele, a program advisor at the Ministry of Education.

Mitigation of the impact of droughts on the education sector has now become a priority for Ethiopia, he added.

"The government has learned a great lesson on how drought can affect students," Takele said. "There is an excuse:" The challenge is an opportunity. ""

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