Rome, Jan 24 : A total 15 million children in the crises-hit Middle East and North Africa region are not attending school, a figure that is expected to reach 20 million by 2030, the United Nations cultural organisation UNESCO and World Food Programme said.
"The magnitude of people on the move has threatened a whole generation, overwhelmed host communities, straining already limited resources and increased social tensions," said Hamed al-Hammami, Director of UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Arab States.
"We cannot afford to let these children and youth miss out on education. Inclusive, quality education is their right, their hope and their future." The staggering numbers of children being denied an education is undermining the development potential of countries in the region, UNESCO and WFP said in a joint statement.
The two UN agencies are committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable girls and boys get quality education - listed by the UN Sustainable Development Goals as being key to improving people's lives and development.
UNESCO and WFP are working with the Education Ministries of Iraq, Syria and Yemen to develop those countries' education management information systems, according to the statement.
"This year WFP is planning to reach more than five million children in the region with school feeding," said Muhannad Hadi, WFP Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
"WFP school meals programmes have proved their value in the most challenging and complex environments of all - the aftermath of emergencies and during protracted crises," Hadi added.
Conflict has impact many countries and millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa over the past decade, WFP and UNESCO said. This has jeopardised social, economic and cultural progress amid an unprecedented humanitarian crisis and forced migration on a massive scale, the agencies said.
Especially in times of crisis, these feeding programmes can have wider benefits by encouraging resilience and stability, safeguarding students and boosting social cohesion among host and refugee communities, said the agencies.
In the MENA region, WFP is running school feeding programmes in 11 countries to boost school attendance rates, reduce gender learning gaps and contribute to children's health and ability to learn. Together with investment in quality education, school feeding programmes are essential for stability and enduring peace in the region, said the agencies.