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ROME: The World Food Program said Friday that millions of children risked hunger or malnutrition due to the shutdown of school meal schemes during the coronavirus pandemic, announcing a drive to boost them. The United Nations organisation announced Finland as the first nation to support the coalition involved in a "global scale up" of school meals.

"When schools closed at the onset of the pandemic, 370 million school children were suddenly missing out on what was often their only proper meal of the day," said WFP Executive Director David Beasley in a statement. The Rome-based organisation won this year's Nobel Peace Prize for its work feeding millions of people from Yemen to North Korea, as economic fallout from the pandemic pushes millions more into hunger.

Finland's minister for development cooperation and foreign trade, Ville Skinnari, will lead the coalition designed to support governments as they bring back meals for students following months of school closures due to Covid-19. School meal schemes are key in addressing child hunger and nutrition, while providing parents with incentives to keep their children in school, especially for girls, according to the WFP.

The organisation also said local economies could recover more quickly from the economic slump caused by coronavirus by boosting such schemes. It estimated that 2,000 are jobs created for every 100,000 children fed through school meal programmes.

Development agencies, donors and the private sector will be involved with governments to support the initiative, the WFP said. No further details were provided on the rollout of the project, which is due to be officially launched at a summit on food systems at the end of this year.

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