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Ethiopia serves free school food as drought causes hunger

ADDIS ABABA – Endale Terefe remembers the time when he loved going to school so hungry he could not stay awake during the lessons.

READING: The drought in Ethiopia has left 7.7 million hungry

The 14-year-old student in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, lives with his aunt after the death of his parents.

"My aunt has no money to buy meals," he said. "That's why I had to go to school without a lunch box and feel sleepy in class.

Then, three years ago, he and other students in the city began to receive two free meals a day through local charities.

"I'm going to the class now," Terefe said with a smile.

Since drought in parts of Ethiopia makes food less affordable and more expensive nationwide, millions of students, including in cities, go to school hungry – if they go at all.

But while the federal government provides rural schools with free food during drought, the diocese's eating task in the capital is usually left to charities.

This changed in January, when the Addis Ababa government launched its own "school meal" program for tens of thousands of children to fight the growing hunger in the city, as it is supposed that climate change will boost dry spells .

Reading: 9.5 million people are starving in Ethiopia

Lower yields on farms in Ethiopia have led to a reduction in food supplies to cities, said Esubalu Abate, a food safety and nutrition assistant at the University of Addis Ababa.

The consequences include rising food prices and double-digit inflation that put enormous financial pressure on city residents who are already struggling with homelessness and high levels of poverty, he told Thomson Reuters.

The impact of drought on rural areas in Ethiopia has been evident in Addis Ababa in the last four years, Abate said.

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

Belinsh Ferrie, a 45-year-old mother of two children who lives in Addis Ababa, said the prices of many of the basic products have jumped drastically for only the past four years.

For example, the price per kilogram of teapot in Ethiopia has risen from 20 to 30 beers (R9.72 to R14.59), while kilograms of potatoes doubled from 10 beers to 20 beers.

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

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

The indirect impact of climate extremes on education was evident in 2015-2016, when El Nino – the warming of the ocean surface – struck drought-prone Ethiopia, turning it into the worst drought in 50 years.

Help agencies report that students fall asleep or feel bad in class, attendance decreases, and drop-out rates are rising because children are either too hungry to go to school or need to stay at home to help their families to look for food.

In order to keep children in class after El Nino, the Ethiopian government has launched a $ 50 million emergency relief program in drought-prone rural areas that have provided free food for about 6 million students for three years.

The UN World Food Program noted that the program stabilized school attendance, with less dropping out.

"Even students who have long since abandoned school have returned to school," a report said.

The government of Addis Ababa hoped to see the same positive results among students in the city with this year's food initiative.

She has devoted 169 million free beer beverages to all primary schools in the city, covering over 50,000 children.

"Education for all is a global motto, and access to education is a matter of law, so urban management is responsible for feeding students," says Mati Tamrath, program coordinator at the Addis Ababa Education Bureau.

The city's program complements school meal projects run by local charities that continue to feed about 80,000 students.

But not all pupils in need are not yet covered, Tamrath said, adding that it is still too early to measure the impact of the urban government initiative.

The study of Yean Eneth's charity association, which has provided free school food since 2014, shows that by 2018 the rate of drop-outs in schools in Addis Ababa has fallen by 75%, and academic student outcomes have improved 14% since 2006

Since Addis Ababa works to prevent rural drought from city education, the federal government wants to launch a new nutrition program that will support children across the country.

According to the Ministry of Education emergency plan for 2019, more than 1 million children in drought-affected areas still come to school hungry.

Meanwhile, the Early Warning Systems Network warned that the majority of households in five Ethiopian regions face food shortages at crisis level in September 2019 due to a combination of droughts and conflicts.

Instead of offering free school meals only in emergency situations, the federal government wants to apply a current program to all primary schools, said Beretke Takele, Program Advisor at the Ministry of Education.

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

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

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