With soaring food prices and a free-falling economy, child malnutrition in Venezuela has crossed the threshold of a humanitarian crisis, the local chapter of Caritas Internationalis said.
The latest figures from a Caritas Venezuela report published on May 16 show that in four states, including the country's capital, Caracas, 11.4 percent of children under the age of 5 "are suffering either from moderate or severe acute malnutrition."
"We are extremely worried, which is why we are going public with this series of reports. We have been monitoring levels of malnutrition and providing assistance to under-5s since October across four states: Distrito Capital, Vargas, Miranda and Zulia," said Janeth Marquez, director of Caritas Venezuela.
The number rises to 48 percent when children under 5, who "are at risk or suffering lower levels of malnutrition, are included," the report stated.
"You see the wasting and in some cases the edema—all the classic images of starving children. In the villages, it's the children who are worst affected, but also the adults are very wasted," said Susana Raffalli, a humanitarian specialist in food emergencies for Caritas Venezuela.
Although Caritas Venezuela distributes kits containing food supplements and medicine, fresh supplies are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain due the country's deteriorating situation, according to Caritas Internationalis.
The report, which surveyed households across 31 parishes, also said that members of more than eight in 10 households are eating less, often due to family members going without food so another can eat. It also revealed that people in one in 12 households were "eating from the street."
"You still see fancy restaurants and people living a normal life in the capital, but even in those areas, in the early morning, you see people going through trash bins looking for food," Raffalli said.
Marquez said that another major health risk affecting the country is the lack of clean drinking water. With the country's reservoirs not properly maintained and no supplies to make water drinkable, malnourished children are at a high risk of falling ill from parasites.
"We are running workshops to show people how to protect themselves from water-borne parasites," Marquez said. "We are also distributing handmade fresh water filters that were developed for use in Africa, and training people to use them so that especially children, pregnant women and old people can drink better water."
The Caritas report urged national and world leaders to intervene and provide "direct food relief" as well as assistance in restoring "adequate facilities for healthcare, clean water and sanitation."
"The response to the food crisis must be a social and economic priority, taking the politics out of protecting the most vulnerable people and facilitating the relief work of all those who, officially or unofficially, have direct contact with those most in need throughout the country," the report stated.