The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela 
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has been significant in regard to food security and medical care, but food shortages and malnutrition were already rampant between 2015 and 2017 in Venezuela. By the end of 2018, wholesale prices doubled nearly every 19 days due to inflation. More than 3.4 million Venezuelans migrated in search of more stability and opportunity.

In response to these issues, Venezuelans protested against the authoritarian leader, Nicolas Maduro, in 2019. The outbreak of protests demanded a new constitution addressing issues related to economic instability and medical care. Then, on March 13, 2020, the first COVID-19 case occurred in Venezuela.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in Venezuela, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 250,309 confirmed cases and 2,814 deaths. The impact of COVID-19 on Venezuela compounded on preexisting humanitarian issues of economic instability, health and food insecurity. In response, nonprofit organizations and international government organizations began providing aid to people in vulnerable situations in Venezuela.

Life Before the Pandemic

Prior to the spread of the coronavirus, Venezuela’s economy experienced a debt of higher than $150 billion. In addition, the GDP shrunk by roughly two-thirds, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Due to this, Venezuela experienced the highest poverty rates in Latin America, affecting 96% of the people. These issues resulted in a lack of essential products such as medical care, potable water, food and gasoline.

Health Security in Venezuela

In the past five years, over 50% of doctors and nurses emigrated from Venezuela to escape economic instability. This is according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. A declining health system was unable to provide aid for infectious disease, malnutrition and infant mortality. As a result, the spread of COVID-19 resulted in heavily populated hospitals with minimal resources.

Without adequate pay and protection for medical professionals, as well as a shortage of potable water and protective medical gear, Venezuela’s hospitals experienced difficulty in responding to COVID-19. According to WHO, around 3.4% of confirmed COVID-19 cases resulted in death. WHO predicts this number to be much higher in Venezuela. This is because the country’s hospitals lack basic X-rays, laboratory tests, intensive care beds and respirators.

In response to these issues, the National Academy of Medicine in Venezuela, a politically independent medical organization, sought to reduce the impact of the pandemic on existing health care systems. The Academy made a request to the U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, James Story, on May 2, 2021, for the U.S. to add Venezuela to its international donor list for millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccinations. Venezuela already received around 1.4 million vaccines from China and Russia.

However, the National Academy of Venezuela stated that to control the pandemic, the country needs to vaccinate 70% of the adult population. The vaccines they received represent less than 10% of what Venezuela needs.

Food Insecurity During the Pandemic

At the end of 2020, with exports at a halt during the COVID-19 pandemic, food inflation rose to 1,700%, resulting in a significant increase in food prices. As a result of inflation and international sanctions, the WFP also projected that Venezuela will experience a slow recovery to intensifying humanitarian issues, including food insecurity.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Venezuela has resulted in 65% of families experiencing the inability to purchase food because of the hyperinflation of food products and inadequate income. In order to survive while experiencing food shortages, families in Venezuela reduced the variety of food and portion sizes of meals.

However, those in vulnerable positions, such as children, pregnant women, those with preexisting health conditions and the elderly, experienced malnutrition because of the inability to meet nutritional needs. The World Food Program (WFP) estimated that one of every three people in Venezuela is food insecure. During the pandemic, those experiencing food insecurity continued to increase. The U.N. reported that prior to the pandemic, one in four elderly people, a demographic that maintained the majority of wealth in Venezuela, skipped meals. During the pandemic, more than four in 10 have been skipping meals.

Humanitarian Response to the Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Venezuela

In 2020, the U.N. developed the Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan, which seeks to provide 4.5 million adults and children throughout Venezuela with access to humanitarian assistance, according to OCHA. The plan requires $762.5 million to provide health care, water, sanitation and hygiene, nutrition, shelter and educational support. The plan carries out objectives of providing emergency relief, improving access to basic services and providing protection for the most vulnerable in Venezuela, especially during the pandemic.

Over 129 humanitarian organizations, including agencies associated with the U.N., will implement the Humanitarian Response Plan in Venezuela. It has already responded to emergency relief to COVID-19 and led to the return of tens of thousands of Venezuelan refugees, according to OCHA.

Throughout 2020, the U.N. received $130 million in support of this Humanitarian Plan. This allows humanitarian organizations to reach 3.3 million vulnerable people in Venezuela with basic necessities. This will include humanitarian assistance, per OCHA’s report. Additionally, the Plan allowed for 1.4 million people to receive humanitarian assistance in response to COVID-19.

The global pandemic and humanitarian issues are continuing in Venezuela, leading to a necessity for improved food security and medical care. As a result, throughout 2020, the United Nations, as well as humanitarian organizations, increased their presence in Venezuela. They will continue to encourage additional humanitarian organizations to provide humanitarian aid.

Amanda Frese
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Venezuela TPS ActVenezuela is currently experiencing “the second-largest migration crisis” in the world. More than five million people have fled the country in the past five years. Many Venezuelans look to the United States as a potential place of refuge to escape the extreme poverty in Venezuela. To help accommodate the refugees, Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL-9) introduced H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 in the House of Representatives. The bill will grant Venezuelan refugees temporary protected status (TPS) and other authorizations.

H.R. 161: Venezuela TPS Act of 2021

Introduced on January 4, 2021, the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021 is a bill that would make Venezuelan citizens eligible for temporary protected status, allowing refugees to stay, work and travel in the United States for 18 months from the date of legal enactment if the bill becomes law.

Many Venezuelan refugees had to completely abandon their old lives and seek out a better one without a plan in mind. With 96% of Venezuelans living in poverty, it is clear that there are very few opportunities left in Venezuela. As a result, Venezuelans need support and opportunities to succeed in a country that is not their own. On March 4, 2021, the House referred the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship for further review.

Accepting Refugees Benefits the US

The U.S. is currently experiencing labor shortages in low-skilled jobs in the wake of COVID-19. According to research from The Conference Board, 85% of companies in blue-collar industries are struggling with recruitment. These jobs range from factory work to service jobs with commercial fast food employers.

Venezuelan refugees are eager to work and earn money to provide for their families in essentially any role. Many U.S. citizens are not interested in such jobs and hold degrees that make them more suitable for the white-collar industry. However, most Venezuelan nationals would be more than willing to fulfill these roles. This allows the refugees to earn an income while also helping the U.S. reduce its labor shortages. In this way, the Venezuelan TPS Act will aid the U.S. economy while providing a path out of poverty for Venezuelans.

Federal Register TPS Notice

On March 9, 2021, the Federal Register posted a notice that Venezuela would be granted TPS for 18 months through September 9, 2022, just five days after Congress moved the bill to the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. President Biden granted this allowance as part of his campaign promises. This allowance makes 323,000 Venezuelan people eligible to receive the same entitlements expressed in the Venezuela TPS Act of 2021. The bill still remains alive in the House, however.

Columbia is a good example of an open-door refugee policy. Colombia has been a leader in the refugee crisis, granting TPS to Venezuelan refugees for up to 10 years. This has helped nearly two million Venezuelans in the process. It is important to realize that most Venezuelan refugees are not looking to permanently settle in a new country and would rather return to Venezuela once the country is no longer under the dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro. In a survey conducted by GBAO, 79% of Venezuelan refugees said they would be likely to return to Venezuela if the president was replaced by “an opponent of the Maduro regime” and the economy improved.

Extended TPS for Venezuelans

An improved home country is likely going to take longer than 18 months given the scale of the crisis in Venezuela. As a result, the U.S. should grant Venezuela TPS for longer than 18 months. Making this change falls on the members of the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship as the Subcommittee is responsible for deliberating and suggesting changes to the Venezuela TPS Act. Increasing the span of Venezuela’s TPS would grant more long-term stability to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees while providing the U.S. with its labor needs.

The Venezuelan TPS Act of 2021 ensures a better future for Venezuelan refugees. Amending the bill to match Colombia’s provision of 10 years of TPS for Venezuelan refugees will provide long-term protection and support as refugees await the end of the crisis in Venezuela in order to return home.

Jeremy Long
Photo: Flickr

brazil helps Venezuelan refugeesDue to the ongoing turmoil in Venezuela, many of the country’s citizens are fleeing for refuge in other countries in Latin America. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Venezuelan refugee crisis is among the worst in the world. Currently, more than 5 million Venezuelans are living in other locations because of issues in their home country. These issues include violence, poverty and a plethora of human rights concerns. Of the Venezuelans living abroad, around 2.5 million of them are living somewhere in the Americas. One country hosting these refugees is Brazil. Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees in several ways.

Brazil’s Relocation Efforts

Brazil has gone above and beyond for the Venezuelan refugees that have come to the country for refuge. Many of the Venezuelan refugees resided in the Brazilian northern state of Roraima. However, a relocation strategy that launched three years ago meant 50,000 refugees that were living in Roraima were relocated to other cities across Brazil. This effort is part of Operation Welcome and it has immensely improved the quality of life for Venezuelan refugees, according to a survey that the UNHCR conducted in which 360 relocated Venezuelan families participated.

Within only weeks of being relocated to a new city, 77% of these families were able to find a place of employment, which led to an increase in their income six to eight weeks after relocation. Quality of life improved for Venezuelans who partook in this survey. The majority of them were able to rent homes and just 5% had to rely on temporary accommodation four months following their relocation. This is a great improvement in comparison to the conditions refugees lived in before relocation. Before relocation, 60% of Venezuelan refugees had to rely on temporary shelter and 3% were entirely homeless. This relocation effort is a significant way in which Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees.

Brazil’s Social Assistance

Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees with its social assistance programs, specifically Brazil’s key conditional cash transfer program, Bolsa Familia. Social assistance programs are designed to help impoverished families, many of which are Venezuelan refugees. Currently, there are low but rising numbers of Venezuelans that are taking advantage of this program. According to the UNHCR, only 384 Venezuelans were using Bolsa Familia in January 2018. More than two years later, in February 2020, this number rose to 16,707. While the number could be higher, the past two years show an upward trend of Venezuelans using this important program to improve their living conditions in Brazil.

The Catholic Church in Brazil Assists

The Catholic Church in Brazil is providing its fair share of help to Venezuelan refugees. A center in the capital of Brazil is hosting Venezuelan migrants relocating from the refugee centers in the Amazon region. The center is receiving support from ASVI Brasil, which has a relationship with the Catholic Church, and Brazil’s Migration and Human Rights Institute. The effort was designed to support Operation Welcome, the Brazilian government’s initiative to address the Venezuelan migration crisis. The center will be able to house 15 Venezuelan families at a time and will rotate families every three months. The center will ensure working people from families have a safe place to live before moving on.

Brazil helps Venezuelan refugees by providing several forms of support. Many of these Venezuelan refugees have left their country because of unimaginable conditions of poverty and violence. The support from Brazil allows these refugees to avoid the hardships of poverty and secure shelter, basic needs and employment in order to make better lives for themselves.

Jacob E. Lee
Photo: Flickr

Food Insecurity in VenezuelaAccording to the World Food Programme’s 2019 report, in the current Venezuelan economy, food insecurity has brought approximately 2.3 million Venezuelans into extreme poverty. Thankfully, international organizations are coming in to help mitigate this reality.

Food Insecurity and Poverty in Venezuela

Andres Burgos wakes up around 3 a.m. every day to prepare arepas: the Venezuela staple of cornbread. After filling his backpack, he rides his bicycle through the streets of Caracas, Venezuela. He looks for people prying into trash bags for food and offers them this bread stuffed with ham, cheese or vegetables. There are many others like Burgos that do the same in Venezuela’s major cities.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), levels of food insecurity are higher in 2021 than in the WFP study from 2019. In the same line of analysis, ENCOVI, a group of national universities, conducted a survey that concluded 74% of Venezuelan households face extreme poverty and food insecurity.

Due to the economic situation in the country, the pattern of consumption has forced the fragile population to change diet habits. Individuals are forced toward consuming more carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and beans. Items including meat, fish, eggs, cheese and vegetables are often too expensive for this sector of society. This type of diet leads to chronic malnutrition.

Addressing Food Insecurity in Venezuela

Numerous organizations are advocating to improve the lives of Venezuelans in need. Recently, Executive Director of the WFP David Beasley arrived in the country to set up the program: The Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan with Humanitarian Needs Overview 2020. The goal is to reach out to the most vulnerable populations and include them in the program’s three objectives: to ensure the survival and well-being of the most vulnerable, to continue sustaining essential services and strengthening resilience and livelihoods and to strengthen institutional and community mechanisms to prevent, mitigate and respond to protection risks

Cuatro Por Venezuela Foundation is another organization that collects funds with the goal of empowering vulnerable Venezuelans with the skills to provide for their own needs and ultimately improve their quality of life. Programs include a health program, a nutrition program and an empowerment program. The health program provides medicine and supplies and hosts educational health drives. The focus of the nutrition program is providing food staples, including formula, to orphanages, nursing homes, schools, hospitals and organizations that cook for the homeless. Additionally, the empowerment program offers training for success in micro-business and funds educational programs centered around children’s creativity, social dialogue and use of their free time.

GlobalGiving is a website that hosts groups and organizations that are collecting funds for a variety of social programs. This one site offers the ability to donate to programs targeting a large spectrum of vulnerable individuals, including the food insecure in Venezuela. Likewise, Alimenta la Solidaridad is an organization that develops sustainable solutions to the food security challenges of Venezuelan families. The organization promotes community organization and volunteer work as a way to provide daily lunches to children at risk of or experiencing a nutritional deficiency as a result of the complex humanitarian crisis.

These organizations are just a handful from the vast number working toward helping the most vulnerable populations of Venezuela who are facing food insecurity and poverty.

– Carlos Eduardo Velarde Vásquez
Photo: Flickr

Groundwater Wells in Venezuela
Amidst the current problematic economic situation and levels of poverty in Venezuela, urban and rural sectors are going deep to find water due to poor access to safe water. Geographical studies or dowsing are the most common methods of creating local groundwater wells in Venezuela.

Poverty in Venezuela

In terms of the poverty statistics of Venezuela, between the years 2008 and 2013, the country ceased the process of poverty reduction and the government stopped providing poverty statistics. Since then, a group of national universities called ENCOVI has implemented independent studies regarding poverty in Venezuela.

According to ENCOVI, 67% of the Venezuelan population is living in extreme poverty while 94% are in poverty. No other country in the region holds numbers as high as these.

Water Access in Venezuela

A 2019 to 2020 report stated that 77% of people in Venezuela enjoyed aqueduct access. Meanwhile, 12% had access to water via water truck, 3% garnered water from public taps and 9% retrieved water from wells.

Despite having a well-established aqueduct system nationwide, many communities do not have a guaranteed and continuous source of clean water. In fact, only one out of four houses have a continuous supply of water, while the majority (59%) can only obtain water on certain days of the week. Meanwhile, the remaining 15% is only able to garner water once a month. On top of this deficient service, the quality of the water is often poor. Reports have said that the water often has a foul smell, yellow color and sediment.

Solutions

Urban and rural communities have decided to solve this problem themselves. This has led to urban areas hiring private companies to implement geological studies and find underground water reservoirs. Rural communities can do the same if they have the economic resources, but if they do not, they opt for dowsing.

The total cost to explore and drill a water well hovers between $15,000 to $25,000. This sum is an orbital number due to Venezuela’s current economic situation. However, with great sacrifice, urban communities can collect this sum in many different ways.

In addition to this effort, local governments are also attempting to find a solution to this problem. In fact, some have taken on the full cost of building the water wells.

The Process of Building Local Groundwater Wells in Venezuela

A scientific method to detect water underground involves the use of a piece of equipment called an Earth Resistivity Meter. It injects electricity into the subsoil through some stainless-steel electrodes that those doing the testing nail into the soil to determine the receptivity of the layers of the ground and subsoil as well as groundwater covers. Various methods use electricity to explore the soil and subsoil to find a water reservoir.

While this works well for some areas, rural areas frequently have challenges due to a lack of funds. Despite this situation, some rural communities have opted for the dowsing method. With the help of two y-shaped branches of a pigeon pea plant, these communities can detect water underground. Normally, dowsing experts survey the area near ravines, and after several experiments, the branches will tilt down indicating the water reservoir.

Other communities go simpler and go along with their intuition by perforating the ground until they find water. However, the problem with this method is that these wells are not well made and the quality of water is dubious if not dangerous.

Efforts of UNICEF to Provide Safe Water

In 2019, UNICEF began working with the Venezuelan government to supply safe water to Venezuelans. Some methods that UNICEF and the Venezuelan government will take include repairing and improving water systems, providing supply water trucks and chlorinating water in many impoverished communities.

From a panoramic perspective, building local groundwater wells in Venezuela is necessary to supply local communities. No shortcut exists regarding solving this problem. To tackle this issue, Venezuela requires economic investments from both the private and public sectors to bring the vital resource of water to all of its citizens.

– Carlos Eduardo Velarde Vásquez
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Venezuela
While poverty rates continue to rise in Venezuela, the country regularly experiences nationwide electricity blackouts. However, utilizing renewable energy in Venezuela would alleviate rising poverty rates in the country by creating job opportunities and reducing the presence of negative health impacts due to pollution. It would also ease the energy burden on the Guri dam, likely reducing the number of national electricity blackouts.

An Energy Crisis

In addition to having some of the largest oil reserves in the world, Venezuela also has an impressive national renewable energy infrastructure. The only problem: the government has all but abandoned the projects. For example, the administration of former President Hugo Chávez abandoned the government program Fundelec (Foundation for the Development of the Electricity Service) following the fall in oil prices in 2008 and 2014. Due to the atrophied Venezuelan energy infrastructure, between April and September 2020, there were roughly 84,000 electricity blackouts nationwide. Excessive energy dependence on the Guri dam continues to exacerbate the issue.

Nirida Sanchez, a resident of Machiques de Perijá in the state of Zulia, told Jeanfreddy Gutiérrez, a reporter for Dialogo Chino, that the blackouts have made her “a slave, because at any time when there is a downturn [she] has to run out and turn everything off so that [she doesn’t] damage another appliance.” Sanchez also told Gutiérrez that the blackouts have damaged both her microwave and her washing machine.

The Push for Renewable Energy in Venezuela

At the moment, Venezuela’s energy infrastructure depends on hydroelectric power that sites like the Guri dam generate, which is located on the Caroní River. Most estimates place the percentage of Venezuela’s electricity at the Guri dam at over 50%, while some sources claim that as much as 70% or even 85% of the country’s power comes from the Guri dam.

To counteract this heavy reliance on hydroelectric power — an energy source that, despite being renewable, can still have negative environmental and social consequences — the government began a push for a transition to other kinds of renewable energy in Venezuela roughly two decades ago. In the early 2000s, the government of former President Hugo Chávez established a program called “Sembrando Luz,” with the intention of using “micro-networks of hybrid solar-wind systems” to harness the renewable energy potential of Venezuela’s northwestern states.

However, the government abandoned the renewable energy projects following the fall in oil prices in 2008 and 2014. As a result, Venezuela renewed its dependence on the Guri dam for electricity and abandoned its hopes for a renewable energy future. That is until a 2016 report by the Scientific Institute Francisco de Miranda emphasized the “technical possibilities and the low cost of photovoltaic energy in the country.”

Despite a phase of fits and starts, harnessing electricity via solar panels and storing it in batteries is a practice that is picking up speed in Venezuela. Engineers familiar with the issue emphasize that a need exists for state involvement and investment in the technology, but, despite that financial hiccup, moving the Venezuelan power grid towards a reliance on photovoltaic power would be a definite boon to citizens like Nirida Sanchez.

Health Benefits of Renewable Energy Use

The benefits of adopting renewable energy sources like solar or wind power are numerous. One benefit is the positive health impact of a transition away from fossil fuels: renewable energy sources are safer for both individuals and entire communities.

To begin with, renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines produce little to no global warming emissions. They also lead to little to no air pollution. As the Union of Concerned Scientists clarifies, the air and water pollution that coal and natural gas plants emit has a link to “breathing problems, neurological damage, heart attacks, cancer, premature death and a host of other serious problems.” These health impacts make it more difficult for impoverished citizens to survive their harsh living conditions.

Economic Benefits of Renewable Energy Use

There are economic benefits to a transition to renewable energy sources as well. The Union of Concerned Scientists states that “on average, more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.” This is because the renewable energy industry, in comparison with the fossil fuel industry, is relatively labor-intensive rather than capital-intensive. That means cleaner air, more jobs and less poverty — all thanks to renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind farms.

For a country like Venezuela, which was suffering from economic and health crises even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the creation of new jobs is vital to economic recovery. Although some experts suggest that the economic troubles in Venezuela, and the resulting rising poverty rates, are due to hyperinflation, the creation of additional jobs in the renewable energy sector would undoubtedly help ameliorate rising poverty rates in the country.

Looking Ahead

It will not be easy to transition to renewable energy in Venezuela, but it will help alleviate rising poverty rates in the country by creating job opportunities and reducing the presence of negative health impacts associated with pollution. Although the Venezuelan government at this time is not working to implement any new renewable energy projects, Venezuelan scientists and NGOs like the Committee of People Affected by Power Outages, an NGO that monitors the impacts of the Venezuelan electricity crisis, continue to push for renewable energy in Venezuela.

By fighting for a renewable future, Venezuelan citizens and scientists are nudging their government in a healthier and safer direction. However, it requires funding and international support from countries like the United States or organizations like the United Nations in order to reach full realization.

– Thomas McCall
Photo: Flickr

Venezuela's Food Crisis
Venezuela has not suffered a particularly high amount of COVID-19 cases or deaths but the pandemic has not left the country unscathed. In fact, the pandemic has worsened Venezuela’s food crisis. Near the beginning of the pandemic, Venezuela went into a full lockdown, shutting down businesses, halting travel and closing borders. The lockdown left many jobless, with no knowledge of where their paycheck would come from and a limited ability to buy food to feed themselves and their families. Some evidence found that 75% of the population in Venezuela’s capital ate less food as of October 2020 than they did in December 2019. Additionally, 82.3% said their incomes were insufficient to buy enough food to feed their family.

Current Situation in Venezuela

Some people who lost their jobs were able to receive remittances from family members living abroad, but these transfers have reduced by half due to quarantines and economic shutdowns across the globe. Even those who had enough money to buy food often had access to inadequate supplies due to halted transportation of food. Rural areas in Venezuela have been particularly short of food and other essential supplies. Additionally, due to the quarantine, many farmers have not been able to work and have had to let crops rot in their fields. Additionally, farmers have not planted crops that would have normally coincided with the rainy season, which is exacerbating Venezuela’s food crisis further.

Fuel shortages have been another problem. Gas has become scarce in the face of the pandemic and it has left many farmers unable to run their tractors and other equipment. At another time, a solution to this would have been to rely on imports from outside of the country. However, the pandemic and fear of the spread of COVID-19 have limited imports as well. The pandemic has damaged the food supply chain capacity, exacerbating Venezuela’s food crisis and increasing the possibility of humanitarian disaster.

Pre COVID-19 Crisis

In 2019, the World Food Programme (WFP) published a report that found that Venezuela had the fourth-worst food crisis in the world after the war-torn nations of Yemen, Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It also found that 9.3 million people lacked enough safe and nutritious food for normal human growth and development. The problem is political; President Maduro entered office on the verge of an economic crisis, and in response, he began printing more money which sparked hyperinflation, raising the prices of basic living. Workers living on minimum wage before the pandemic said they could only afford 20% as much food as they could in 2012. To make the situation worse, President Maduro blocked most attempts of foreign aid and help from NGOs, which only worsened Venezuela’s food crisis and raised political tensions.

Solutions to the Crisis

Despite all of the ongoing challenges, hope exists. Many local farmers use traditional community methods of farming, working with local neighborhoods to supply communities of hungry people with a stable and nutritious source of food. Additionally, internal NGOs have led modest, but successful and effective relief efforts. This is not enough to alleviate Venezuela’s food crisis, but ongoing efforts have provided food to families across the country and aided farming programs and initiatives.

Additionally, in June 2020, Venezuelan authorities and the opposition signed a deal to allow the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to provide humanitarian aid in Venezuela. While this is only a fraction of the international aid Venezuela could receive, it is making a significant impact on Venezuela’s food crisis. It provides not only physical aid but also support and guidance for internal organizations so they can better aid Venezuelans.

– Lizzie Alexander
Photo: Flickr

Malnutrition in VenezuelaA meager 3% of Venezuelan families are considered food secure in a country where more than 96% of people live in poverty. Child malnutrition in Venezuela rose to 26% from December 2019 to March 2020. Maduro’s government, a hotbed of mismanagement, corruption and cronyism, has done little to help the poverty and malnutrition in Venezuela. Hyperinflation continues to suppress economic activity, and U.S. sanctions imposed to pressure Maduro into reform or exit, have limited Venezuela’s access to imported food, medicine and other basic goods. On April 19, 2021, the World Food Programme announced that it would be implementing a program to address food insecurity and malnutrition in Venezuela.

Child Malnutrition in Venezuela

A 2021 policy brief by medical researchers called Venezuela’s public health system “practically non-existent.” Especially with U.S. sanctions, many healthcare facilities are unable to obtain the medicine or medical equipment needed to properly function. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic puts further strain on already limited health resources. As of April 2021, the Venezuelan Government has vaccinated less than 1% of the Venezuelan population.

According to a UNICEF report, 13% of children in Venezuela suffered from malnutrition between 2013 and 2018. Without access to sufficient calories, protein or generally diverse foods, many of these children will be held back developmentally, far beyond their childhood years. Venezuelan nutritionist, Raquel Mendoza, tells Thompson Reuters that “A population suffering from malnutrition implies we are going to have adults with less physical and intellectual potential.” Mendoza states further that “We’re going to see a regression in the development of the country because human resources are diminished.” These words express the urgency and importance of speedily addressing malnutrition in the country.

Before 2009, Venezuela’s infant mortality rate was steadily declining. In the first decade of the Chavez presidency, which began in 1999, infant mortality dropped by half. However, under Venezuela’s ongoing economic and sociopolitical crisis, the infant mortality rate has regressed to where it was in the 1990s. Even though many cases go unreported, statistics show that child mortality increased by 30% in 2016.

The World Food Programme Alleviates Malnutrition

Starting in July 2021, the World Food Programme (WFP) will provide school lunches for children between 1 and 6 years of age. The WFP’s goal is to reach 185,000 students by the end of 2021 and 1.5 million by the end of 2023. These meals will mainly go to preschool and special education schools, but public and private schools will receive aid too.

Despite the pressing need for foreign aid, the Maduro government has historically rebuffed aid attempts by international organizations and governments. According to the Washington Post, Maduro blocked almost $60 million worth of U.S. aid in 2019 and insisted that Venezuela was not a country of beggars.

The agreement reached between Maduro and the WFP Executive Director David Beasley on April 19, 2020, came after months of resistance by the government. The program’s operations will remain independent of the political turmoil and uncertainty of Maduro’s rule.

The Road Ahead

Although the aid cannot catapult Venezuela out of its current crisis, the WFP program will improve the lives of many families who do not know how or when they will eat next. Although rarely dissolving geopolitical tensions or toppling an unjust regime, humanitarian aid organizations can and do protect those who suffer from the impacts of corruption, mismanagement and conflicts of others.

Alexander Vanezis
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A Pandemic in a Refugee Camp
Since the Venezuelan refugee crisis began in 2015, over 360,000 Venezuelans have fled to Ecuador where they have sought political and economic asylum away from the tumultuous governing in Venezuela. In Ecuador, Venezuelan refugees have created camps and have attempted to rebuild their lives to little avail due to xenophobia, limited job opportunities and harsh living environments. While these harsh living conditions have continued for the Venezuelan refugees for years, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified hardships. Spending the pandemic in a refugee camp involving cramped and overflowing shelters has caused refugees to become extremely vulnerable to contracting and dying from COVID-19.

No Access

For the hundreds of thousands of impoverished and unemployed Venezuelan refugees living in cramped refugee camps, it is challenging to social distance or to retrieve information on COVID-19. Moreover, with limited money focused on food, shelter and provisions, refugees have little left to spend on personal hygiene or personal protective equipment. As a result, refugees do not have access to much-needed medical supplies to keep safe from virus transmissions such as masks, sanitizers, gloves or vitamins. Consequently, transmission rates in refugee camps are disproportionately higher than their urban Ecuadorian city counterparts, yet the medical care is disproportionately lower.

As hospitals in Ecuador have become overrun by sick patients and Ecuadorian first responders have become absorbed with endless virus-related emergencies, Ecuadorian healthcare workers have had to choose which patients they will actually provide medical care to. This decision oftentimes coincides with heavy racism against Venezuelan refugees. Consequently, first responders have often chosen to respond to the rich Ecuadorian citizens living in urbanized areas over the far away, impoverished Venezuelan refugee camps. Similarly, Ecuadoran doctors prefer to provide medical care to the more affluent Ecuadorian citizens who can surely pay their hospital bills rather than the refugees. In turn, Venezuelan refugees are not always able to use Ecuadorian healthcare and instead have to fend for themselves without medical supplies, information about the virus or the ability to social distance.

A Solution for Refugees Surviving a Pandemic in a Refugee Camp

Because solving xenophobia in Ecuador or empowering and enriching refugees could not rapidly happen in time so that they could receive proper treatment during the pandemic, refugees had to take matters into their own hands by looking to new initiatives to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Alongside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Venezuelan refugee communities in Ecuador developed the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System in an attempt to rapidly discover COVID-19 cases in refugee camps. The system can detect individuals with COVID-19 for quarantine purposes and consequently reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission amongst refugee communities.

Once the system detects them, patients receive information about their diagnosis along with referrals for proper treatment. The system reports all cases to the national health authorities so that Venezuelan refugees can identify who they were in contact with so that all parties can undergo quarantine and testing for the virus.

How it Works

Since launching in July 2020, the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System has detected hundreds of cases and has prevented the further spread of the virus for thousands of refugees. By identifying a suspect COVID-19 case, the system is able to assess a localized community point of potential exposure for other refugees. Once discovered, the system registers all information upon a public health database that records exposed individuals and provides them with information and medical treatment for the virus. Furthermore, the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System records if a COVID-19 patient or exposed individual has access to personal protective equipment, has preexisting conditions or lives in overcrowded environments that would make them and their neighbors more susceptible to the virus.

UNHCR taught six refugee camps across Ecuador the process of contact tracing. Trained refugees can utilize the Community Epidemiological Surveillance System. This results in using telephone hotlines, community visits by healthcare workers and providing medical provisions. The system is curbing COVID-19 spread in a pandemic in a refugee camp for vulnerable Venezuelans who would have very few medical opportunities otherwise.

– Caroline Largoza
Photo: Flickr

Venezuela Temporary Protection StatusDue to the dangerous conditions in Venezuela, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) helped pass the S.50: H.R. 161: Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2021. This act aims to protect eligible Venezuelan citizens residing in the U.S. who cannot safely return to their home country. In addition to other criteria, Venezuelan citizens applying for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) must demonstrate they have been continuous residents of the U.S. since March 8, 2021, and have been continuously present in the U.S. since March 9, the effective date of the TPS. Considering these prerequisites, USCIS estimates around 323,000 citizens are applicable for TPS.

The Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act allows beneficiaries to remain in the United States for an extended period of 18 months or until September 9, 2022, when the act is no longer active. They are also authorized to obtain Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) during this period as long as they follow the requirements of their TPS. An EAD allows non-citizens to work in the U.S. for a certain period of time. Beneficiaries can also apply for authorized travel outside of the U.S. but retain the same immigrant status after returning. It is important to note that TPS does not lead or result in permanent resident status. Whatever past status a beneficiary had remains intact after the act ends.

Current Conditions in Venezuela

This bill is highly necessary when considering the harsh conditions in Venezuela. Poverty in Venezuela increased from 48.4% in 2014 to 96% in 2019. In addition, 80% are currently living in extreme poverty. At least 2.3 million Venezuelans are facing food insecurity. From an economic perspective, in this same timespan, Venezuela’s economy declined by 66%. This has made Venezuela the country with the highest inflation rate in the world. Healthcare has diminished greatly as well, with pharmacies experiencing shortages of approximately 85% of necessary medicine. Also, about 70% of surveyed hospitals lack access to clean water. In terms of violence, Venezuela is among the world’s most violent countries with nearly 7,000 extrajudicial killings between January 2018 and May 2019. In addition, the Venezuelan Violence Observatory NGO calculated 46 murders for every 100,000 people during 2020.

Benefits of the TPS

TPS was created under the Immigration Act of 1990 and is currently serving 470,000 people from 10 different countries dealing with severely unsafe conditions. Under the current Biden-Harris administration and the newly written U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, citizens currently benefiting from TPS can access a path to citizenship that wasn’t available before. This act has not yet passed but has gathered attention and would be highly beneficial for both the U.S. economy and immigrants from countries facing violence and civic unrest. After all, current TPS holders have a labor force participation rate of over 80% and are expected to contribute $164 billion to the national gross domestic product over the next 10 years.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said, in accordance with the Venezuela Temporary Protected Status Act of 2021, “It is in times of extraordinary and temporary circumstances like these that the United States steps forward to support eligible Venezuelan nationals already present here, while their home country seeks to right itself out of the current crises.”

– Juan Vargas
Photo: Flickr