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Venezuela: Unprecedented. Man-made. Humanitarian Crisis.

  • July 13, 2018
  • Photo by Nicoló Filippo Rosso/Americares
  • Michael’s Blog
Michael J. Nyenhuis

Michael J. Nyenhuis

Americares President and CEO Michael J. Nyenhuis leads a health-focused relief and development organization that saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster.

“Venezuela has been subjected to an unprecedented man-made humanitarian crisis, including extreme food and medicine shortages, thousands of children dying of malnutrition, and malnourished people contracting formerly eradicated diseases.”

Unprecedented. Man-made. Humanitarian crisis.

That’s the summary of a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the deteriorating situation in Venezuela. An Americares emergency response team is seeing the effects firsthand from a medical clinic we recently opened on the Colombian border to provide care to a growing number of men, women and children fleeing Venezuela. Every morning, pregnant women and mothers of young children line the hallways waiting for care that no longer exists in their home country.

When we think of refugees we most often think of places like the Middle East (Syria), Africa (South Sudan), and Asia (Myanmar). Today it is happening in Latin America as well.

Let’s take a look at the situation.

Unprecedented. In the largest refugee flow in the Americas in decades, more than 1.5 million people have fled Venezuela in recent years. While they have spread out across Latin America and into the Caribbean, the biggest impact has been on Colombia, which shares a lengthy border with Venezuela.

Man-made. Primarily, refugees are fleeing an economic crisis brought on by government policy and sharp declines in oil revenues. Among the impacts is a general collapse of the health system, leaving people without access to medicine or care. Political violence toward those opposed to the government is also a factor.

Humanitarian crisis. Children are dying of malnutrition. People are dying for lack of medicines and health care. Public health efforts like essential vaccinations have ceased in many places. The first case of polio in decades has been reported. Infant mortality rates increased 30 percent in a single year (2015 to 2016), and maternal mortality spiked by 65 percent during the same period. Rapid inflation, low stocks of food and staple goods have made life very difficult for all but the wealthiest. On average, Venezuelans lost 24 pounds last year due to food shortages, according to a recent study that made news headlines.

Leaders from 50 countries recently implored Venezuela’s leadership to change course, restore the rule of law and open the door for humanitarian aid in hopes of stemming the refugee tide. We add our voice to that call.

This is a man-made crisis. Children and families are suffering. Refugees crossing the border into Colombia need health, a measure of hope and then a pathway to a better life. While we expect the international community to keep up the pressure on Venezuela, Americares will, meantime, continue to do our part to bring health services to Venezuelan refugees in Colombia.