February 18, 2019
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Food programs in Yemeni schools encourage attendance despite conflict

Sana'a, Feb 11 (efe-epa).- In a bid to encourage Yemeni students to attend school despite the ongoing civil war, the United Nations Children Fund and World Food Program have launched a food project to provide biscuits stuffed with dates for tens of thousands of students across the war-torn Arab country.

Nearly half a million students have dropped out of school since the ongoing conflict in Yemen escalated in 2015, which brought the number of children who do not attend school to two million, according to UNICEF.

"The project is targeting 600,000 students across Yemen for the 2018-2019 school year," WFP said on its website, adding that there were "plans to expand to 900,000 students upon the start of the new school year in Sept. 2019."

Mohamed al-Dorah, the supervisor of the program at al-Nahda school in the Yemeni capital told epa-efe in an interview that the project, planned by UNICEF and funded by WFP, has been providing two biscuits stuffed with dates for 1,130 students (570 boys and 560 girls) every day.

"The attendance of students was remarkable after the project was launched in Nov. 2018 at the government-run al-Nahda school," al-Dorah said.

"UNICEF and WFP have selected 30 public schools, including al-Nahda, to receive the school snacks out of more than 600 schools in Sana'a, especially those located on the outskirts of the city, which were receiving many displaced students fleeing from conflict zones," he said.

He said since the beginning of the program, a lot of parents wanted their children to join al-Nahda school, but they were denied places as classes were "already full of students."

As a result of the ongoing conflict, many Yemeni families can not provide food for their children, especially displaced ones.

"During the past two years, prior to this project, there was an initiative by rich parents and businessmen living in our neighborhood to provide daily sandwiches and juice for about 250 children of the poorest and most needy students in order to be encouraged to attend school daily," he said.

Although the project began last Nov. and was expected to continue until the end of the current academic year, al-Dorah said he did not know whether the project would last for another year.

"If the program stopped, we will re-activate our previous initiative. We have no other option to prevent more students from dropping out of school due to poverty," he said.

According to the UN, at least 13 million people are threatened by famine conditions in Yemen, where hunger is widespread.

The Arab nation has been locked in a profound political, economic and military crisis since the popular regional uprisings of 2011, with the Iran-backed Houthi militias capturing Sana'a in Sept. 2014 and expelling President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who has the military support of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among other partners.

The relentless bombing campaign by the anti-Houthi coalition has killed countless civilians, ravaged most of Yemen's infrastructure and led to one of the world's most pressing humanitarian catastrophes by pushing millions to the brink of starvation.

By Yahya Arhab

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