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Around the world more than 2.5 billion men, women and children live in grinding poverty on less than $2-a-day. This results in chronic hunger and malnutrition, preventable diseases such as malaria, measles and tuberculosis, environmental degradation, low literacy rates and countless other social, public health, economic and political problems.

Halving the number of undernourished people by 2015 from 1990 levels was the goal of the 1996 World Food Summit and a target of the Millennium Development Goal 1. Unfortunately, however, hunger and malnutrition rates in the world continue to grow and are accelerating due to the recent global financial and economic crisis and the 2008 food crisis.

The combination of lower volatile incomes and higher prices has caused food, a basic right for all, to be beyond the reach of millions of people. One sixth of all of humanity – approximately 1 billion people – are hungry and undernourished.

Rural areas, especially in regions of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, are the populations hardest hit. Children and young people, particularly girls, are among the most vulnerable as hunger and malnutrition severely affect their physical and mental development and inhibit their ability to learn and participate in social activities.

School Meals: a safety net for the poor

In Zambia, the World Food Programme provides school meals to 300,000 youth in 829 schools. These meals encourage children from poor households to go to school, stay in class and learn. They allowed fifteen year-old Eliza Sabolo to keep alive her dream of becoming a journalist. From 2011, the School Meals programme will be graduated into the Home Grown School Feeding initiative that will feed 1 million children in conjunction with the Zambian Government under the Ministry of Education.

Eliza remembers a time when she went without food for two days because there was nothing to eat at home. However, four years ago she began receiving food at school under the WFP School Meals Programme.

A Haitian youth waits to receive emergency rations being distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP) at a warehouse operated by the humanitarian organization CARE, in the aftermath of hurricane "Ike".

A Haitian youth waits to receive emergency rations being distributed by the World Food Programme (WFP) at a warehouse operated by the humanitarian organization CARE, in the aftermath of hurricane "Ike".

Every morning, Eliza wakes up at 5:00 a.m. and sets out to do her daily chores of fetching water from the communal tap, sweeping the house and bathing before walking 20 minutes to school. At 11:00 a.m., she breaks from her studies to help distribute hot meals to younger schoolmates, handing out utensils to pupils waiting in line for their daily portion of porridge made from a High Energy Protein Supplement and vegetable oil.

Once the younger students are fed, Eliza and the older students get their share of the food. Eliza always looks forward to going to school so that she can eat. She is also happy that she can learn and work towards her dream of becoming a journalist.

According to Eliza, the meals have made a big difference in both her physical appearance and ability to learn. “My hair used to be brown blonde, but now it’s black. Even my body, I was thin. I was not fat like now,” she says while poking a finger into her arm.

Staying in school and consistent learning have improved Eliza’s academic performance. She has improved her grades from an average of 4/10 to 10/10. “I was feeling weak for so long, but now I can do anything. I learn better and my marks have improved,” she says smiling.

On non-school days, Eliza has little to eat. Most Sundays she gets by with two small meals of nshima and tea. Thankful for WFP’s food assistance, Eliza’s father encourages her to go to school.