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A girl reaches for a tangerine at a soup kitchen in Petare, Venezuela, February 27, 2020.
© 2020 AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos
On April 19, the World Food Program (WFP), the United Nations’ food assistance branch, announced it had reached an agreement with the Nicolás Maduro government, after over a year of negotiations, to deploy in Venezuela to supply food to young children in need. The agreement is a huge step toward mitigating Venezuela’s spiraling humanitarian emergency, a crisis that predates the Covid-19 pandemic and for which Venezuelan authorities are largely to blame.
According to the WFP, one in three Venezuelans are food insecure and in need of assistance. In 2019, 9.3 million Venezuelans suffered from food insecurity, a number projected to increase significantly. The Venezuelan organization Caritas has reported more than 14 percent of children under five years of age in some low-income areas suffer from acute malnutrition.
WFP operations in Venezuela will focus on providing school meals to the most vulnerable children between ages 1 and 6 through public and private schools, particularly through preschool and special education. The agency’s goal is to start delivering aid in July and reach 185,000 children by the end of 2021, 850,000 children by the end of the 2021-2022 school year, and 1.5 million by the end of the following school year. Due to school closures during the pandemic, beneficiaries will receive monthly boxes with takeaway meals.
The WFP has stated their meal programs are independent and “separate from any other interference.” This means food will be delivered apolitically and in compliance with basic humanitarian principle of neutrality, which is essential in a country where authorities have favored supporters in the distribution of subsidized food.
The WFP’s deployment is an essential first step to ensure that at least the youngest Venezuelan children will see food on their tables, and donor countries should contribute to cover the program’s estimated US$190 million operating costs. But this development is also the result of sustained international pressure on Venezuelan authorities to let the WFP in. If there’s any hope for sufficient medical and food aid to reach people in need, it is through an increased role by the WFP, which has the logistical capacity to help deliver aid into the interior of the country.
The pressure has started to work. Now it should continue.