GENEVA – The World Food Program says it has distributed a first batch of food to thousands of schoolchildren in Venezuela.

The handover follows an agreement concluded earlier this year between the UN food agency and the Venezuelan government.

Schools in Venezuela are currently closed. So World Food Program spokesman Thomson Phiri says his agency will provide rations for homes, which families will receive at schools where children are enrolled.

“Our plan is to start, is to gradually reach 185,000 people, including children under the age of six and school staff by the end of the year,” Phiri said. “The ration I talked about is enough to cover a baby for 30 days, which is a month.”

World Food Program to Provide Daily Meals for 185,000 Venezuelan Children

WFP aims to expand operations over two years to reach 1.5 million students with daily meals

WFP says 42,000 food parcels have arrived at its logistics center in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city. Each pack contains more than 11 pounds[11 kg]of food, including rice, lentils, iodized salt, and vegetable oil.

Venezuela’s once prosperous economy has been in free fall since President Nicolas Maduro came to power more than eight years ago. The United Nations says more than 5.3 million people have fled the country due to political repression and difficult economic conditions.

Official figures regarding Venezuela’s health status are not available. A WFP study in 2020 suggests, however, that one in three Venezuelans do not have enough nutritious food to eat every day.

A study by Swiss charity Caritas of five Venezuelan states and the capital, Caracas, found that 16 percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition. The condition can cause obstruction, loss, cognitive difficulties and even death.

WFP says its work in Venezuela will focus on providing school meals, rehabilitating school canteens and training school staff to monitor and enforce top food safety practices.

The agency says it hopes to expand its school nutrition program to include 1.5 million children and school staff by the end of the 2022-2023 academic year.