Mental Health in Venezuela
Due to the ongoing humanitarian and economic crises in the nation, mental health in Venezuela has become a forefront issue for both people who remain in the country and those migrating to flee the trouble at home. Mental health troubles affect Venezuelans of all ages and the changes that COVID-19 has brought about have compounded the issue.

Mental Health in Venezuela

Following the death of former Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro assumed power in 2013. Due to a reduction in foreign aid and outdated spending policies, the economy spiraled into a deficit, which eventually led to food and medical shortages. Since the start of the conflict, more than 5.6 million people have fled Venezuela, mostly to Peru or Colombia.

The turmoil from hyperinflation, political unrest and the ensuing mass exodus has created a stressful environment in which the development of mental health issues is common. Before the pandemic, one out of every two Venezuelan migrants in Peru exhibited some health issue, including those related to depression, fear, anxiety or stress, and went without professional care. Following the advent of COVID-19, estimates indicate that less than 10% of those in need of healthcare can receive treatment because of economic constraints or policies related to quarantines.

The Effects on Children

Mental health in Venezuela is not an issue limited to the adult population. Although Venezuela’s government does not track data on the mental wellness of its youth, it is possible to get a glimpse of the circumstances through those who work firsthand with Venezuelan children. Cecodap is one such NGO that focuses on child and adolescent rights. Psychologist Abel Saraiba works closely with Cecodap in Venezuela, reporting that the number of children exhibiting symptoms of depression and anxiety rose from 9% in February 2020 to 31% in June 2020. Venezuela’s first quarantine measures, which it implemented in March 2020, may have influenced this. Saraiba tells Reuters, “We have a complex humanitarian emergency on top of a pandemic,” and “the combination of these factors produces a deterioration in living conditions.”

Actions to Address Mental Health in Venezuela

While the situation of mental health in Venezuela remains dire, hope is on the horizon for those in need. UNICEF and the United Nations have taken notice of the struggles Venezuelans face, especially with COVID-19 exacerbating these issues.

One of the most significant sources of stress for children is unrest at home. UNICEF is working extensively with the population of Venezuela to spread awareness about the rise in domestic violence since the start of the pandemic. In addition, UNICEF helps provide support for returning Venezuelans and their families. UNICEF is also positioning counselors at the borders and assigning caseworkers to help stem domestic disputes.

The United Nations’ 2021 Venezuela Humanitarian Response Plan targets 4.5 million Venezuelans in need. The plan aims to “provide life-saving emergency assistance, secure livelihoods through improving access to basic services and ensure the protection of the most vulnerable,” among other goals. The plan’s funding will allow many who struggle with mental health in Venezuela to seek treatment. So far, showing support of the plan, the international community has committed roughly $83 million to aid struggling Venezuelans.

With aid to Venezuela from multiple organizations focusing on several aspects of well-being, including mental health, there is hope for mental health in Venezuela to improve.

– Kevin Leonard
Photo: Pixabay

WFP in Venezuela
In April 2021, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reached a deal to distribute food to vulnerable school children in Venezuela. The program ambitiously seeks to help 185,000 students in 2021 alone and 1.5 million children by the end of the 2023 school year. Since schools in Venezuela remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parents and teachers can pick up rations at their local schools. A monthly ration consists of nine pounds of lentils, 13 pounds of rice, one pound of salt and one liter of vegetable oil. The WFP additionally manages its own supply chain and partners with local teachers and nongovernmental organizations to distribute food. Once schools open again, the WFP in Venezuela will also teach school faculty about food safety.

First Shipments Arrive

Recently, the first shipments of food arrived in Maracaibo, Venezuela. The stockpile includes 42,000 packages of food for this month. The WFP in Venezuela targets children under six deemed to be the most food insecure. Originally, the program began in the state of Falcón and intends to expand to other Venezuelan states gradually. The first set of rations went to a total of 277 schools in the state of Falcón.

Venezuela’s Economic Crisis

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, 96% of Venezuelans live below the poverty line. The country is heavily reliant on the export of natural gas and oil. In fact, oil makes up one-quarter of Venezuela’s gross domestic product (GDP). As oil prices dropped dramatically in 2014, Venezuela began to undergo an economic crisis. Between 2014 and 2016, oil prices had decreased from $100 to $30 per barrel. Since 2015, over 5 million Venezuelans have left the country in search of better opportunities, according to the United Nations. Additionally, Venezuela’s GDP reduced by two-thirds between 2014 and 2019.

Venezuela was once the second-largest producer of oil in the world, behind the United States. Venezuela was also a founding country of OPEC in 1960. The country has had a long history of dictatorships and consolidation of the oil industry, which the state and a select few companies controlled. Some believe that the current president, Nicolás Maduro, underwent reelection through undemocratic means in 2018. In January 2021, after Maduro had claimed victory in the election, candidate Juan Guaidó argued that Maduro had won illegitimately. The United States and several other countries acknowledged Guaidó’s victory.

Although exact figures are unknown, the WFP estimates that one-third of Venezuelans do not have enough to eat. Furthermore, approximately 16% of children suffer from malnutrition within the country. About 7 million Venezuelans are in need of humanitarian aid.

The Importance of WFP in Venezuela

The WFP in Venezuela is much needed as the country struggles economically and fails to provide for its citizens. WFP representative Susana Rico said that “We are reaching these vulnerable children at a critical stage of their lives when their brains and bodies need nutritious food to develop to their full potential.” Hence, this program will be instrumental in providing the necessary resources to underserved young children.

– Kaylee DeLand
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in VenezuelaMenstrual products are instrumental to a woman’s daily life. These products, deemed nonessential by many governments, affect women in their home life, work and education. However, up to two million Venezuelan girls and women end up victims of an economy in crisis, unable to afford the basic menstrual necessities. Several organizations are addressing period poverty in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s Inflation Crisis

Venezuela’s economy, once rich and booming, has fallen into a crisis over the past two decades. By 2014, 90% of the country’s earnings came from oil. However, as oil prices dropped, an economic collapse began. The value of the Venezuelan currency fell, and as a result, the cost of goods increased.

At the time, the newly inaugurated President Nicolas Maduro made the executive decision to print more money. This intended solution simply made the problem worse as an increased supply in currency only decreased its value even more. Maduro’s government continued to print more money to combat the falling prices, creating a dangerous cycle of hyperinflation. The current inflation rate is an estimated 9,986%, the highest inflation rate globally.

How Hyperinflation Impacts Menstrual Products

Due to hyperinflation, many women in Venezuela are affected by period poverty. One package of sanitary pads can cost more than a quarter of a month’s salary. A box of tampons is even more inaccessible, costing “up to three months’ salary.” Women who cannot afford these prices are forced to improvise by creating “temporary pads made of old socks, toilet paper or cardboard.” These makeshift menstrual products carry health implications for girls and women, putting them at heightened risk of toxic shock, urinary tract infections and other diseases.

Period Poverty Affects Education and Employment

Menstrual products affect not only a woman’s health but also every aspect of her daily life. Women who cannot afford products often have to miss school or work as a consequence. For school-aged girls, this can total 45 days of the school year missed. Since education is linked to poverty reduction, a lack of menstrual products exacerbates cycles of poverty. By missing work, womens’ incomes are reduced, intensifying conditions of poverty.

Sustainable Menstrual Solutions

Sustainable menstrual products may provide a solution to addressing period poverty in Venezuela. While standard pads and tampons have to be regularly purchased due to their disposable nature, menstrual cups are resilient and reusable, proving both effective and affordable.

Marian Gómez, the founder of The Cup Ve, created a menstrual cup that costs $10-$20 and lasts about seven years. This proves significantly cheaper long-term compared to buying monthly disposable menstrual products.

Sisters Marianne and Véronique Lahaie Luna also recognized the potential of menstrual cups in reducing period poverty in Venezuela. Their NGO, Lahai Luna Lezama, donated more than 400 menstrual cups to Venezuelan migrant women in 2019 alone. More than 300 menstrual cup recipients reported that the menstrual cups significantly transformed their lives.

Menstrual Education in Venezuela

Menstrual myths and stigma as well as a lack of menstrual education also exacerbate the issue of period poverty in Venezuela. To address this, Plan International hosts educational menstrual workshops for migrant girls and women. The organization distributed hygiene kits to more than 41,000 “Venezuelan people in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.” Plan International’s future plans include not just giving out resources but opening the conversation around menstruation.

The commitment and dedication of organizations help to combat period poverty in Venezuela, removing barriers to female advancement and development. By combating period poverty, global poverty is simultaneously reduced.

– Caroline Bersch
Photo: Unsplash

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