malnutrition in venezuelaA humanitarian hunger crisis has struck the country of Venezuela. The economy has hit rock bottom and moderate to severe child malnutrition in Venezuela has reached 11.4 percent for children under the age of five. The World Health Organization states that a threshold of 10 percent must be surpassed in order to declare a crisis, and Venezuela has well exceeded that threshold. Venezuela’s continuously unstable economy is to blame for the decrease in food and the increase in hunger.

When Venezuela struck massive amounts of oil during World War I, its economy skyrocketed. Its success with oil reserves led to a blossoming economy that assisted in providing its people with what they needed to thrive. However, Venezuela had only relied on the income from the oil industry to fuel its economy. With no economic backup plan, Venezuela was heading down a path of economic destruction.

Venezuela’s economy began its dramatic decline in the 1980s. After the oil price collapse and the accumulation of internal and external government debts, it became apparent that the country had a major financial burden to address. Economic policies to solve this issue were failing and the government was falling deeper into corruption, causing more economic instability.

The coming years would not be any brighter for Venezuela. Ongoing economic mismanagement led to increasing poverty levels. Venezuela went into a recession in 2014, invoking more worry for the country and putting more pressure on the government to make the right economic decisions. The government’s dysfunctional way of solving the country’s money problems eventually led to the worst economic decision to date.

Venezuela’s inflation levels became one of the highest in the world, reaching a record high of 800 percent in December 2016. This hyperinflation came after the Venezuelan government’s decision to enact an internal embargo on food imports, completely cutting off outside sources of food and causing massive food shortages. These food shortages caused an increase in food prices to an unattainable amount. People could not buy food anymore, as a basic food basket could cost up to 16 times the amount of minimum wage.

A popular food item bought in Venezuela is cornmeal. Used to make an arepa, the previous cost of a two-pound bag of cornmeal was 190 bolivars. Now, the cost is 975 bolivars per two-pound bag. This astronomical increase in price hinders the ability to purchase the essential ingredient to make a wholesome meal.

Food shortages directly affect child malnutrition in Venezuela. In just four short years, child malnutrition has gone from three percent to as high as 13 percent in some parts of Venezuela. Families are scavenging the streets to find any morsel of something edible, or standing in line all day only to receive two to three morsels of food to feed their entire family. Today, eight in 10 families eat less than before, and six in 10 families go without food on a regular basis.

Business Insider conducted an interview with Venezuelan resident Lilian Tovar. She weighed in on her personal experience with hunger, stating “If we eat breakfast, we don’t eat lunch, if we eat lunch, we don’t eat dinner, and if we eat dinner, we don’t eat breakfast.” Compromise has become a mindset of the Venezuelan people, deeply affecting both themselves and their children.

Malnutrition can have a lasting effect on a child’s life. When there is limited access to food, children can become deficient in nutrients needed for proper body development. Some of the 20 essential nutrients needed for a healthy body include calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin K, boron and manganese. These nutrients are found in many plant-based foods and grains. Unfortunately, these products are not easily found, and if found they are at a price that no family can afford. Therefore, a child who is lacking these essential nutrients has a higher risk of bone growth problems and will likely never reach their full growth potential. Inadequate nutrition can also lead to a weak immune system, allowing the body to become more susceptible to diseases and infections later in life. In the worst cases of child malnutrition, normally involving gastrointestinal infection, death is imminent.

Caritas, a crisis-centered organization whose work is now heavily dedicated to Venezuela’s malnutrition crisis, states that “The response to the food crisis must be a social and economic priority, taking the politics out of protecting the most vulnerable people and facilitating the relief work of all those who, officially or unofficially, have direct contact with those most in need throughout the country.” Caritas’ thorough research studies across the four Venezuelan states of Distrito Capital, Vargas, Miranda and Zuliahave have led to their decision to put their full foot forward in rehabilitating the country.

Caritas’ main priority is children under five. They supply malnourished children with food supplements that include protein and iron. Children are brought into Caritas’ makeshift facilities for regular nutrition check-ups in order to provide them with nutritional and medical attention.

Caritas is sending out a desperate plea for the sake of child malnutrition in Venezuela. Their efforts cannot be accomplished alone. Families are suffering and every day more children are being diagnosed with malnutrition. This is now a worldwide cry for help, a call to action and a need for involvement. To eradicate child malnutrition in Venezuela, this call must be answered. Children are the future and with the help of the people, the future is what these children will see.

– Brianna Summ

Photo: Flickr