William Lambers: School Lunches for Peace in Iraq

Roundup: Historians' Take

[William Lambers is the author of "The Road to Peace."]

U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower once said, "The world cups its ear to hear the rattling of rockets. It listens less closely to the sounds of peace and well-being which emanate from the slow but steady improvement in world health and nutrition."
These words ring true even today. When we listen to news reports from Iraq, seldom do we hear about the fight against hunger and malnutrition in the country. Yet, the ability of Iraq's new democracy to feed its people is one of its critical benchmarks for success, particularly when it comes to children. Having school feeding available to all Iraqi children is critical. Unfortunately, this is not the case at the moment.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) released a report in early November showing that while access to food had improved in Iraq, much work needed to be done. One of the report's recommendations called for "Food for education among the poorest areas" which would institute school lunches and take home rations for the most vulnerable Iraqi children.

The WFP had been providing school meals for Iraqi children up until the middle of 2006. The meals consisted of high energy biscuits and take-home rations of vegetable oil as a means to encourage parents to send their children to school. According to WFP representative Robin Lodge, "We succeeded in reaching about 1.2 million in 2005 and things were going well in the first half of 2006, when we reached 530,000."

But then it all came to an end. In 2006 Iraq's new minister of education requested different types of foods for the program. WFP was unable to provide these foods and talks broke down on how to proceed with school feeding. Food for Education was therefore suspended and no substitute was provided by the Iraqi government. According to Lodge, "There has been no systematic school feeding in Iraq since we suspended our program in September 2006."

In Iraq, "16 percent of the surveyed households" cited economic hardship as a reason for children missing school. The WFP report also emphasized "concern about the dropout to work among students under 15 years of age." Providing meals at school with take home rations is just the incentive that can encourage parents to send their children to school. School feeding is a type of economic, nutritional and educational stimulus package for families.

WFP hopes to resume school feeding in Iraq but can only do so at the Iraqi government's request. The government of Iraq should work with the WFP on building universal school feeding. The United States should encourage an agreement. These are the less dramatic steps toward peace that are so desperately needed in Iraq and other countries around the world.
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