African children face food shortages at school. Picture: AP Photo/Ben Curtis

Johannesburg – Africa’s future generation is being short-changed by a shortage of funding to provide nutritional school meals, says the UN.

In a Monday news release the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said that more than 1.5 million children across West and Central Africa risked going to school hungry or dropping out altogether as the 2018-2019 year kicked off.

“School meals are one of the best investments the international community can make to ensure a headstart for young children in some of the world's poorest countries,” said Abdou Dieng, West and Central Africa Regional Director of the WFP.

In many areas of the region, WFP is the sole or main provider of school meals.

However, over the years WFP has shrunk its coverage for lack of funds. In Burkina Faso, WFP's school meals programme for nearly 83 000 children is zero percent financed, while the programme in Senegal is only five percent funded.

School meals for more than 200 000 school children in the Central African Republic (CAR) are only half-funded while in Niger, the programme for more than a quarter of a million pupils is 19 percent financed.

Other particularly at-risk countries include Liberia, Mali and Mauritania, but the funding dearth stretches across the region.