Some 300 million children who depend on school meals are missing out due to closures triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, the World Food Programme said Friday.
The WFP pointed out that more than 860 million children -- roughly half the world's student population -- were having to stay away from schools and universities due to shutdowns aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to missing out on learning, hundreds of thousands of children are now missing free school lunches, the UN agency said.
The WFP said nearly nine million children out of the 18 million the organisation itself feeds through school meals across 61 countries were no longer receiving them.
The agency said it was looking into alternative ways of providing children out of school with food, including take-home meals.
"Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some 300 million primary schoolchildren are now missing out on school meals on which they depend," WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs told reporters in an online briefing from Geneva.
She warned that the number of children deprived of WFP-provided school meals "is set to rise in coming days and weeks."
"In countries where schools are closed, WFP is evaluating possible alternatives.
"This includes providing take-home rations in lieu of the meals, home delivery of food and provision of cash or vouchers," she said.
Byrs stressed that without alternative solutions, many children around the world blocked from attending school would otherwise go hungry.
She said the idea of take-home rations would benefit not only children but their families too.
The governments of wealthy countries such as the United States, Britain, France and Canada have adopted special mechanisms to ensure that their poorest schoolchildren will not go hungry.
But the situation is much more precarious for children living in countries plagued by extreme poverty, armed conflict, and whose health systems are weak or almost non-existent.
"We can shift to online learning, but not online eating. Some solutions are needed," Carmen Burbano, director of the WFP's school feeding division, told AFP.