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Venezuela: The Ongoing Malnutrition Crisis
In 2015, Venezuela began its economic and political down spin. Today, it is in a humanitarian crisis with severe food shortages where the government is not willing to acknowledge the condition of the state and of their people. The Venezuelan citizens are trapped in an authoritarian country unwilling to provide basic necessities to them and is refusing the acceptance of others attempting to do that very job. Governmental and non-governmental (in the form of non-governmental organizations (NGO)) aid is, in my opinion, required for the mere survival of the people left in the dust by the government.
Humanitarian action given by NGOs, such as the World Food Program (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Oxfam, should be accepted and received in Venezuela. According to a study done by Caritas Venezuela between April and August of this year, 14.5 percent of children in Venezuela are either moderately or severely malnourished, 21 percent of children have slight malnutrition, and 32.5 percent are at risk of becoming malnourished. The 14.5 percentage goes well above the threshold identifying a food crisis by the Global Acute Malnutrition scale. (1) The threshold for it to be considered a serious humanitarian crisis according to the Global Acute Malnutrition scale is 10 percent. (2) This makes it clear that this country should be targeted and given aid.
Having 44 percent of the population reporting that they haven’t eaten for entire days (3), is an indicator of the severity of the situation. Having Venezuelan employed soldiers search through garbage for scraps of food (4), is another indicator the extreme economic condition of the country. There shouldn’t be a reason why organizations wouldn’t go to offer help.
Direct delivery of food would be the first route towards aid. Both the World Food Program and Oxfam offers this service. Oxfam has done this in the past with famine cases in Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan, and Somalia. (5) Venezuelans are in need of this service as well, and the situation is only getting worse.
The infrastructure of the Venezuelan economic collapse causes the near impossibility of acquiring food simply due to the fact of not having any available, meaning going to a market filled with empty shelves. Even in high-end grocery stores, where food might be available, the prices are extremely steep for the majority of people, “Venezuela’s minimum wage for a month is 97,531 bolivars, or just over $10. At Rey David [a high-end grocery store], a bottle of Aunt Jemima maple syrup goes for 95,230 bolivars.” (6) There has been a 1000 percent rise of food prices (7) causing this reality.
With all of this said, the disposition of humanitarian NGO’s, such as the ones mentioned above, is not in question. In fact, many have attempted to provide their services and materials to the country, but have been blatantly denied access by the government themselves. Since the beginning of the whirlwind in 2016, the New York Times reported the consistent refusal of aid. (8) And this behavior has continued, when Venezuela presented itself to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March of this year, Maduro’s regime denied any help offered by international organizations to alleviate the starvation of his population. (9) In 2019, this is still a present issue. Now, with sanctions placed on the Venezuelan government meant to put pressure on Maduro, the side effects are devastating (10) for the little humanitarian aid that is in Venezuela. As told to the Independent, "experts in international law, international relations and NGOs operating in the country say they [sanctions] will still exacerbate an already dire humanitarian crisis – and hinder efforts to restore democracy."
Considering their refusal, the true first step to deliver aid is another one. The first step would need to be working towards opening access to the people in need for these humanitarian organizations that have a lot to offer. This would call for governmental political intervention. Doing the best to avoid any physical intervention by a particular government(s), the procedure would be to implement sanctions, both political and economic, embargos, and/or declarations condemning the administration. The purpose of these acts would be to pressure on the current regime to accept aid offered by either international NGO’s, the U.N., or even American organizations (that many are offering their aid to this day).
These measures are starting to be taken. On the 31st of May, the Organization of American States (OAS) attempted to pass a declaration condemning Venezuela. The resolution was sponsored by the United States and Mexico, and co-sponsored by Canada, Peru, and Panama. (11) This was a failure. It did not pass. But some countries are still placing their own sanctions on Venezuela.
While the European Union, unfortunately, still has their doubts about sanctioning, Canada has already imposed “targeted sanctions against 40 Venezuelan officials and individuals who have played a key role in undermining the security, stability and integrity of democratic institutions of Venezuela.” (12) The purpose, as stated in a news release published by the Canadian government, is so “Canada demonstrates its strong commitment to the return of democracy in Venezuela.” (13) They are not alone, the U.S. has also imposed their own economic sanctions, although without much financial effect.
The goal of the imposition of sanctions is not to truly have any economic effect, Venezuela is already in a very negative spot. The true purpose is to apply political pressure onto Maduro’s regime in hopes of opening some doors into Venezuela to at least allow emergency humanitarian aid to be delivered. Although the goal is a temporary solution to their long-term problem, it is something worth the effort as lives are at stake.
With an emergency humanitarian crisis thriving in once the richest country in Latin America, one of the most immediate needs of their people is food security. The most immediate and logical response to that problem would be to send humanitarian aid, such as WFP, FAO, and Oxfam to replenish the urgent necessity of food. But, in this particular case, the regime of the crisis state is an obstacle. Therefore, the actual first step towards famine alleviation has to begin in politics. The resolution doesn’t have to be a long-term one, it simply should be one that will allow access to its people. Perhaps a door could burst due to pressure caused by sanctions. Without this, it doesn’t seem that access to the malnourished will be granted any time soon.
 Márquez, Janeth. Monitoreo de la Situacion Nutricional en Niños Menores de 5 años: Venezuela: Distrito Vargas, Miranda y Zulia. Caritas, 2017. Accessed September 24, 2017. http://caritasvenezuela.org.ve/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/IV-Bolet%C3%ADn-Situaci%C3%B3n-Nutricional-Ni%C3%B1os-Menores-de-5-a%C3%B1os-web.pdf (Translated conclusions can be found at HRW https://www.hrw.org/blog-feed/venezuelas-crisis#blog-309356)
 Abadi, Anabella M. “Caritas Study finds Childhood Hunger Racing to Crisis Levels,” Caracas Chronicles, February 23, 2017, https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2017/02/23/caritas-study-finds-childhood-hunger-racing-crisis-levels/
 Toro, Francisco. “Venezuela’s Hunger Crisis is for Real,” The Washington Post, June 1, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2017/06/01/venezuelas-hunger-crisis-is-for-real/?utm_term=.029ba650e613
 Martín, Sabrina. “Venezuela’s Socialist Catastrophe: Even Soldiers Are Eating from the Garbage,” PanamPost, March 13, 2017, https://panampost.com/sabrina-martin/2017/03/13/video-reveals-deep-crisis-in-venezuela-even-soldiers-feed-off-garbage/
 Oxfam America Inc. Oxfam Fact Sheet: Hunger and Famine Crisis, April 2017 https://www.oxfamamerica.org/static/media/files/oxfam-hunger-and-famine-crises-fact-sheet-april-2017-v2.pdf
 Gillespie, Patrick and Pozzebon, Stefano. “Venezuelans scramble for food, but it’s often out of reach,” CNN Money, July 27, 2017, http://money.cnn.com/2017/07/27/news/economy/venezuela-food-shortage/index.html
 Gillespie and Pozzebon, “Food out of reach for Venezuelans.”
 Casey, Nicholas. “Concern as Venezuela Refuses to Accept Aid,” The New York Times, September 27, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/28/world/americas/venezuela-refuses-us-aid.html
 Martín, Sabrina. “Venezuelan Regime Rejects both Humanitarian Aid and UN Recommendations,” PanamPost, March 16, 2017, https://panampost.com/sabrina-martin/2017/03/16/venezuelan-regime-rejects-humanitarian-aid-un-recommendations/
 Taylor, Luke. "Venezuela: New US Sanctions pressure Maduro but 'risk exacerbating humanitarian crisis and torpedoing negotiations'," Independent, August 11, 2019, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/venezuela-us-sanctions-maduro-guaido-humanitarian-crisis-white-house-a9051786.html
 Mallett-Outtrim, Ryan. “Venezuela Declares Victory at OAS and UN,” Venezuelanalysis.com, June 1, 2017, https://venezuelanalysis.com/news/13165
 Global Affairs Canada. “Canada imposes sanctions on Maduro regime in Venezuela”, Government of Canada, September 22, 2017, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2017/09/canada_imposes_sanctionsonmaduroregimeinvenezuela.html
 GAC, “Canada Sanctions on Maduro regime”