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Six out of 10 Venezuelans going without food so family members can eat, report says

Federico Parra | AFP
Venezuelan Rebeca Leon, who scavanges for food in the streets of Caracas, poses with her two-year-old son at her house in Petare shantytown. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is resisting opposition efforts to hold a vote on removing him from office. The opposition blames him for an economic crisis that has caused food shortages.
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Political crisis accompanied by extreme undernourishment, lack of medicines, bad water

Malnutrition of children has reached the crisis point in Venezuela, that country’s main Catholic charitable agency has reported.

The World Health Organization’s crisis threshold for child malnutrition is 10 percent. Caritas Venezuela has found that 11.4 percent of children under five are suffering either from moderate or severe acute malnutrition.

That determination is the result of surveys the agency has conducted across four states, including the capital, Caracas.

Venezuela’s political crisis has gained more world attention lately, as clashes between police and opponents of the government of Nicolas Maduro leave scores dead. But Venezuelans have been suffering for several years from shortages of food and medicine and soaring food prices.

Caritas has been monitoring child nutrition in four states: Distrito Capital, Vargas, Miranda and Zulia. Janeth Márquez, director of Caritas Venezuela, warned that the malnutrition crisis has gotten so bad that if there isn’t a sufficient response soon, “it will become very difficult for these children ever to get back onto their nutritional growth curve.”

For the most vulnerable children, Caritas distributes kits containing food supplements, especially protein and minerals such as iron. Medicines are also offered to the most at-risk people.

Caritas says that more than eight in 10 households in the areas surveyed are eating less than before, and nearly six out of 10 say that some family members are going without food so that another person in the family can eat. Typically, that’s mothers giving their own food to their children.

Susana Raffalli, a humanitarian specialist in food emergencies working for Caritas, reported seeing wasting and edema among the children surveyed. “In the villages, it’s the children who are worst affected, but also the adults are very wasted,” Raffalli said. “You still see fancy restaurants and people living a normal life in the capital, but even in those areas, in the early morning, you see people going through trash bins looking for food.”

In fact, one in 12 households are eating “from the street,” scavenging for leftover food from restaurants and garbage bins, the Caritas report shows. It doesn’t help that inflation is running at 720 percent, the highest in the world.

“It’s a major crisis and needs national and international help to manage the scale of the disaster at the highest decision-making levels,” said Rafalli. “Livelihoods have been degraded to such an extent that the very poor have no means to cope – everything has broken down. Jobs, healthcare, the family, home – poor people have lost everything as they move about in search of a lifeline. The humanitarian community and the people of Venezuela need to begin a full-scale response now.”

Another risk to health is the lack of clean drinking water. Even in urban areas, supplies can be cut off for days, Caritas says.

“Fresh water supplies failed a long time ago, as reservoirs have not been properly maintained, and there are no basic supplies for making water drinkable such as chlorine. In many areas the piped water is not safe to drink,” Márquez said. “If a child who is already malnourished falls ill with a parasite, obviously the impact will be much worse. The economic situation is so bad that people can’t afford gas bottles, so they are not boiling their water.”

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