The once oil-rich South American nation of Venezuela has seen tremendous hardship in recent years as the economy has collapsed and inflation rates continue to rise. In many urban centers across Venezuela, the poor reside in slums, known as barrios. The number of people living in barrios has steadily increased as the county has become urbanized. These barrios are vulnerable to a host of threats, including high levels of violence and environmental dangers. Below is a list of 10 facts about slums in Venezuela.
10 Facts About Slums in Venezuela
- Rapid urbanization following the financial boom during the 1950s in Venezuela led to a major housing shortage. As the country’s economy skyrocketed, many people abandoned a rural way of life to move to city centers. The country could not accommodate the influx of people to the cities. This led to overcrowded urban housing structures, such as the famed 23 de Enero, which years later would develop into one of the country’s largest slums. Today, nearly 93 percent of the Venezuelan population lives in urban centers. In the capital of Caracas, two-thirds of the population live in slums.
- In 2011, in an effort to solve the housing shortage which left 3.7 million Venezuelans without proper shelter, Former president Hugo Chavez passed a bill that would allow people to build upon any unoccupied land. Therefore, families that occupied homes in the slums most often built them as well. Because much of the land in the mountainous regions of Venezuela is not suitable to build upon, people took to building their homes on top of each other. This created crowded vertical slum communities, most notable in the outskirts of the country’s biggest city, Caracas.
- Venezuela was previously home to the tallest slum in the world. Amid the bustling financial center of Caracas, the famed Tower of David stood 45 stories high and housed 750 families. Abandoned before its completion, people developed the unfinished skyscraper into a slum apartment complex. In 2016, government officials evacuated the families and an earthquake partially destroyed the tower soon after.
- Venezuela currently has one of the world’s highest inflation rates in the world. At the end of 2018, Venezuela’s annual inflation rate was 180,000 percent. Massive inflation has led to widespread food insecurity and has left 82 percent of the population impoverished. Many people have quit their jobs in order to spend their days finding food. People must stand in long lines for food in the slums in Venezuela, while the wealthier people take to the black market to buy food at exorbitant prices.
- Many of the slums in Venezuela are on the sides of steep mountain slopes. With a rainy season that lasts several months, from May to November, residents of the feebly built slums in Venezuela are very vulnerable to environmental dangers, such as earthquakes and mudslides. Years of construction on these mountainsides have destabilized the soil, doubling the threat since the 1950s of deadly mudslides. One of the most notorious storms hit Venezuela in 1999 when a year’s worth of rain fell in just a matter of days. Mudslides following this storm killed 32,000 people and left 140,000 homeless.
- A series of massive power outages that began in March 2019 left more than 20 million people without access to running water for over two weeks. With an unstable government and economic collapse, there is a continual threat of more power outages in Venezuela. Out-of-date electrical power systems are necessary to pump water up the steep hillsides where most of the slums reside. Whereas wealthier Venezuelans can travel to streams and lakes for their water, residents of the slums must line up at local manholes, nicknamed pozos or wells, for their water supply. Because many are using unclean water sources, there has been a recent increase in Typhoid Fever and Hepatitis A.
- Approximately 840,000 children in Venezuela have lost at least one parent to emigration in recent years, and hundreds have moved into orphanages as their parents struggle to provide for their children. Thirty-three percent of children have a growth delay and mental damage from malnourishment, and the under-5 mortality rate has increased by 50 percent since 2014. President Nicolás Maduro has recently shut down social service offices, such as those that the Fundana orphanage in Caracas runs, that helped desperate parents in the slums arrange for their children to enter the orphanages. Now, many live on the streets in the hopes that someone will save them.
- In April 2019, President Nicolás Maduro changed his policy and agreed to allow aid to enter Venezuela, bringing hope to the malnourished and endangered population. UNICEF and its partner organizations have provided health and nutritional supplies to more than 350,000 Venezuelan women and children in the past year. These organizations have also distributed over 12,000 water purification tablets and 4,200 oral rehydration salts during this time. These, along with other international relief services, vow to continue to help the malnourished population in Venezuela.
- Because hospitals lack basic necessities and access to clean water, UNICEF and its partner organizations have worked to provide generators to hospitals in the case of power outages. In addition, they have sent 55 tons of health supplies to the country since January 2019. These supplies include deworming tablets that have helped 4.3 million children and breastfeeding or pregnant women. They also include vaccines to combat the deadly diseases that plague children in Venezuela, including nine million doses of the diphtheria vaccine, during their national immunization campaign.
- Although many teachers have left and school attendance has dropped by half in the past two years, people have not given up on the struggling youth in Venezuela. International relief efforts and nonprofit organizations have come together to offer safety and psychological treatment for the at-risk youth. UNICEF has contributed 260 education kits for over 150,000 children in public schools. It has also offered psychosocial support for nearly 10,000 children. The Venezuelan organization Pasión Petare, which uses soccer to help children stay motivated and avoid lives of crime in the slums in Venezuela, has also recently begun to offer daily meals and a safe place to spend the day to over 2,000 students in the slum of Petare.
Given these 10 facts about the slums in Venezuela, there is clearly a need for the world to continue working and fighting on behalf of the struggling population. Despite the dire circumstances that exist in the barrios, the people continue to fight for their survival. From private orphanages and grassroots organizations to international relief efforts, the world clearly cares about the plight of Venezuelans. People are aware of the tremendous difficulties that face the country and will continue to reach out with assistance as the population gropes for their survival one day at a time.
– Christina Laucello