Last Updated 04 Jan 2023

The Food Crisis in Venezuela

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One current world issue in the developing world is the food crisis and widespread malnutrition in the developing South American nation of Venezuela. Venezuela has been experiencing a food security crisis for the past several years, as a result of a failing economy, a corrupt government, and rising inflation and food costs. This food insecurity is harming millions of Venezuelans, and millions have fled to neighboring countries to escape the crisis. The United States is currently attempting to provide aid to the country, but there still remain questions as to what role the United States should play in helping Venezuela resolve this humanitarian crisis.

According to a 2016 New York Times article, Venezuela’s crisis began after Nicolas Maduro was elected president after the passing of longtime Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, oil prices began dropping, and the country began to face inflation which made goods unaffordable to many families. According to the FAO Early Warning Early Action Report, Venezuela’s inflation rate reached 7,459 percent at the end of March 2018, and the purchasing power of the bolivar became increasingly ineffective at purchasing goods. In an effort to combat this inflation, the Venezuelan government has printed more money, causing the crisis to become an example of hyperinflation. According to an article from the Washington Post, the supply of bolivars has increased 14 times during 2017, and a U.S. dollar is worth nearly 80 times as much as it was at the start of 2017.

While the roots of this crisis lie within the government, the effects of the economic crisis have caused major food insecurity across the country. According to a report from Reuters, Venezuelans reported losing an average of 24 pounds in bodyweight over the last year. In addition to the effects on adults, the food crisis has caused alarming rates of malnutrition in children. In a 2017 investigative report by the New York Times, doctors in Venezuela saw nearly 2,800 cases of child malnutrition in emergency rooms, and nearly 400 children died. This same report detailed the deaths of two children whose mothers were forced to stop breastfeeding. Their families tried alternative solutions in cream of rice and cornstarch mixed with whole milk, but those solutions did not provide the babies with the nutrients they needed, and the babies eventually died from severe acute malnutrition.

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Because the situation is economic rather than stemming from famine or natural disaster, it is important for the United States to determine what kind of aid, if any, to provide to Venezuela. Ethically, the United States has a moral obligation to provide some kind of aid based on the principles of rights and utilitarianism, and the Venezuelan government has an obligation to allow the people to receive the aid. From a rights perspective, the population of Venezuela has a right to live a productive, healthy life, and this right is currently being denied because they are unable to purchase food with the money that they do have. In terms of the utilitarian theory of ethics, it is also of a greater benefit to aid the starving people of Venezuela than any negative effects that the United States public may face from giving aid.

According to a study from Rahnama et al. (2017), it was discovered that foreign aid can positively affect growth in high income countries. Venezuela is currently considered an upper-middle-income country according to the World Bank. This means that aid could benefit their country even though the purchasing power of their citizens has been nearly decimated by the crisis. According to this research, the aid would most likely be beneficial to Venezuela. A second study by Ivica Petrikova (2015) concluded that the positive effects of food aid can outweigh any negative factors when countries provide relief to countries that are facing food insecurity.

However, because this is an economic crisis rather than a famine or natural disaster, it is important to establish how much aid will be given as well as what steps Venezuela is taking to move out of its financial crisis. According to an article from Devex, USAID is preparing stores of food, medicine, and other supplies at the Colombian border, and will airdrop supplies into the country if the situation allows for them to do so President Nicolas Maduro is currently denying that there is a humanitarian crisis and is withholding authorization of any aid from the United States. From Venezuela’s perspective, it is considered morally right to accept aid from the United States since they are unable to provide their citizens with the means to live a food-secure life. Venezuela also has an obligation to “do no harm” under the non-maleficence theory of ethics. As illustrated earlier in the paper, children are suffering and dying from malnutrition, and by refusing aid during this clear crisis, Venezuelan leaders are choosing an unethical path.

The causes of Venezuela’s food crisis are a combination of political, economic, and social factors that have climaxed into the preventable suffering of millions of people. Though the United States has chosen to provide aid to Venezuela, they must ensure that the Venezuelan leaders do what is beneficial to their nation’s people and accept what will help alleviate suffering at the present time. However, this aid is only a temporary solution to a much larger issue, and Venezuela must enact economic policies that allow citizens to regain their purchasing power.

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