PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Last minute funding to buy rice has allowed the U.N. World Food Program to resume free breakfast for hundreds of thousands of Cambodian children, the agency said Monday.
The program ended this month because of rising rice prices. But a $5.4 million infusion from WFP headquarters in Rome meant an extension through the end of the school year on July 5, said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the WFP in Bangkok.
Thomas Keusters, the WFP's program director for Cambodia, said he was "delighted" after receiving the news.
"We're going to deliver food to all 1,344 schools so that the school-feeding program can continue until the 5th of July," he said Monday.
Classes will resume in October and Keusters said the fate of the meal program "will very much depend on the donations we will receive in the coming weeks and months."
Facing a budget shortfall because of the rising cost of food, the U.N.'s food agency said three months ago that breakfast stocks at Cambodian schools would run out before mid-June. Five local suppliers defaulted on contracts to provide rice because they could get higher prices elsewhere, program officials said.
It was just one of many WFP programs facing cuts amid a $755 million shortfall in the U.N. agency's budget. But in recent days, the WFP received a $500 million donation from Saudi Arabia along with a total of $300 million from the United States, Australia and Europe.
Cambodian school officials, some of whom ended their program and others who were about to, expressed joy about the latest news.
"I am very happy if that is true," said Nheng Vorn, principal of Choumpou Proek school, about 40 miles west of the capital, Phnom Penh.
His school's rice supply ran out May 27, and the staff cooked the last 64 pounds of peas on Friday for the students.
About six miles from Nheng Vorn's school, the Sangkum Seksa school was set to end its meal program this week.
"But maybe there will be no need to close it if we will really get more rice," the school's principal Tan Sak said.