Venezuela’s hunger crisis is for real
The last thing Susana Raffalli ever expected was to end up working back home in Venezuela. Over a three-decade career, Raffalli worked with desperately hungry people everywhere from tsunami-hit Indonesia to Pakistan to the refugee camps of southern Algeria. A nutritionist by training and humanitarian by calling, she participated in the Oxfam experts groups that brought statistical rigor to such emotionally charged terms as “hunger crisis” and “famine.” Now she’s back in Caracas, her home town, applying a lifetime’s expertise in a context that never ought to have called for it.
“People come here and see all these highways and skyscrapers and they just can’t believe there could be a hunger crisis here,” she tells me over the phone from Caracas. She tells me it was hard for her, too, to believe, at first. But then, as head of the Catholic charity Caritas’s response to the hunger crisis in Venezuela, she went into the field and started applying the monitoring mechanisms humanitarians use all around the world.
What she found was shocking. Caritas constructed a sample of more than two dozen at-risk areas in the poorest parishes of four Venezuelan states and started weighing children under 5 years old. This allows Caritas to measure “global acute malnutrition” — the key mechanism humanitarians use to assign numbers to the severity of hunger. In October, 8.9 percent of the children they measured faced either moderate or severe acute malnutrition. The number was high, and it has kept rising. By April, 11.4 percent of of children in vulnerable areas were experiencing acute malnutrition — well above the 10 percent threshold humanitarian agencies use to declare a food crisis.