Sat, 23 Feb 2019

Starving Venezuelans pouring into Colombia, says UN body

Jamaica News
11 Feb 2019, 16:21 GMT+10

GENEVA, Switzerland - The UN is remaining neutral in the political deadlock gripping Venezuela, concentrating its efforts on addressing the humanitarian disaster unfolding.

The United Nations has put aside politics and is providing support based on need, and need alone, a senior aid official Friday.

The official with the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told journalists in Geneva on Friday, the agency was observing developments at Venezuelas border with Colombia, and said an aid had convoy arrived there Thursday.

On the situation at the border, the UN is monitoring that situation closely, Jens Laerke from the OCHA said Friday. The ideal scenario is that humanitarian aid is provided, independent of any political or other considerations than the pure humanitarian, and that is based on need and need alone.

At the border, the World Food Programme (WFP) confirmed that needs are at crisis-like levels inside Venezuela, where opposition politician Juan Guaido declared himself interim President last month, amid deepening economic and political uncertainty.

How can we know if people are starving or not? Just stay at the border with Colombia, and look who is coming into Colombia, said WFP senior spokesperson Herve Verhoosel. He said 1.2 million people had come, starving, in Colombia with no money, no food, no medicineYes of course theres a crisis in the country.

WFP has been providing emergency food assistance at the Colombian border since early last year.

From April to December 2018, the agency says it provided emergency food assistance to 290,000 people in the countrys border departments of Arauca, La Guajira, Norte de Santander and Nario.

Venezuelan migrants, Colombian returnees and host communities have been assisted, Mr Verhoosel explained, adding that the flow of migrants into Colombia is expected to rise.

Several resident UN agencies work inside Venezuela including UN Childrens Fund (UNICEF), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the Pan-American health Organization, UNAIDS, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

In a bid to help 3.6 million Venezuelans including two million children, OCHA has appealed for nearly $110 million.

The UN has already helped local institutions by providing medical kits for women and children, and aid teams are also delivering 100,000 treatments for severe acute malnutrition. Six temporary shelters have been set up in the western border states to house 1,600 people and offer them protection and information, as well as family kits containing food and clothing.

Since November, UN agencies have been scaling up existing activities inside Venezuela to meet urgent health, nutrition and protection needs, Mr Laerke said. This highly prioritized plan requires $109.5 million. Up to now we only $49.1 million received against that plan.

Also in Geneva, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed that it is continuing to work with the authorities through the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), notably to prevent and control communicable and non-communicable diseases.

Last year, around 50 tons of medicines and supplies were delivered to Venezuela by PAHO, WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic said.

Since measles was first reported in July 2017, there have been 6,395 confirmed cases, including 76 deaths in the past two months.

This has led to the re-launch of the vaccination campaign in August 2018, with coverage rate reaching 95 per cent of children aged up to 15. Reported cases of measles appear to be declining, Mr Jasarevic said.

Immunization campaigns have also been launched to successfully halt a diphtheria outbreak which began in July 2016 and has claimed 270 lives to date.

Although reported diphtheria cases have been declining among children under 15 years of age, transmission among adults persists, WHO warned.

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