By Hector Pereira
Caracas, Aug 19 (EFE).- Irianny and her young son are malnourished.
Unable to provide a balanced diet for her family on a teacher’s salary of less than $100 a month, she must seek out free meals at a soup kitchen in this capital, an establishment where Venezuela’s incipient economic recovery is a distant mirage.
Still under the age of two, the child began receiving humanitarian assistance several months ago under a program run by the non-governmental organization Caritas after he showed signs of malnutrition.
Those same symptoms were later observed in his mother, who is now breastfeeding her six-month-old daughter.
The 36-year-old woman said the food assistance her family receives in a low-income Caracas neighborhood is essential and – speaking to Efe ahead of World Humanitarian Day, observed annually on Aug. 19 – called for other soup kitchens to be opened to help “many other” needy people.
At least 5.2 million Venezuelans are in urgent need of basic assistance, according to the United Nations’ new 2022-2023 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) for the country.
A total of nearly $800 million is required from international donors this year as part of that plan, which is focused on “supporting health services, improving food security and nutrition, strengthening basic service delivery and education, promoting protection and addressing human mobility,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a press release early this month.
Based on an increase in perceived needs, the new HRP tempers the excitement surrounding the incipient economic recovery of a country emerging from a years-long recession.
While leftist President Nicolas Maduro’s administration is touting Venezuela’s growth in 2022 as the fastest in Latin America, no country in the region needs as much money to assist its poorest inhabitants.
The necessities are the greatest among certain vulnerable demographic groups – children, indigenous communities, people with disabilities and the elderly – who have not yet felt the impact of the economic improvement.
“Humanitarian assistance in Venezuela must continue since, specifically for these vulnerable groups … the determining factors of their vulnerability haven’t disappeared. There is no economic recovery. There’s no increase in income,” Dr. Javier Manrique, humanitarian coordinator of Convite, an NGO, told Efe.
That organization, which provides near-nationwide support to the elderly population, says 70 percent of that population receives a pension of just $23 a month, a level of earnings that is woefully insufficient in a country where people require roughly $400 a month to cover their basic expenses.
While excitement is brimming due to the return of concerts by international recording artists and the emergence of new start-ups, enormous needs persist and it is more important than ever for the international community to continue to show solidarity with the Venezuelan people, the UN’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, said after a visit to the South American nation.
Irianny is proof that those needs have not gone away. Although the teacher doesn’t deny that “some families” are better off today than a few years ago, she says her improved quality of life is due only to humanitarian assistance.
Manrique, for his part, says the country’s “dramatic indicators” – such as an extreme poverty rate of more than 70 percent, according to NGOs – must be highlighted to obtain the international financing that allows a continued flow of aid to the needy.
“The fact that a person … has to choose between medicine and eating, I think is already sufficient to show the level of suffering they’re facing,” he added.
But the doctor, the UN and the government also all agree on the importance of linking humanitarian assistance with skills development, which they say is the best way to ensure the incipient economic recovery is felt by all segments of Venezuelan society. EFE