Almost 19 thousand children prevented from suffering severe malnutrition, the life of at least 10 thousand has been saved. This small miracle in the longstanding inferno afflicting the Venezuelan people, within the massive humanitarian crisis that children are living, has occurred thanks to the efforts of Caritas Venezuela, enriched by the generosity and determination of countless volunteers present at territorial level. This miracle is also – and mostly – due to the person who created and coordinated this project: a determined, competent and generous woman, Venezuelan nutritionist Susana Raffalli Arismedi. She is one on the major world experts in emergencies of this kind. She has been carrying out her activity in coordination with Caritas since 2011. She worked for UNICEF, the Red Cross, and several NGOs. She lived in Central America, the Philippines, Burma…In the past years she gave herself a mission: to single-mindedly face the challenge of saving the highest possible number of people, especially children, from the impact of the social and economic crisis that brought the Country to its knees. The review Americas Quarterly included her in a list of ten people who will rebuild Venezuela.
SIR contacted Susana Raffalli in Cúcuta, the Colombian city on the border with Venezuela, where she is participating in an initiative of the continental march “Huellas de Ternura” promoted by CELAM and by various church and social bodies to raise the Continent’s awareness on the protection of children’s rights. These are particular days and hours for her nation. Saturday’s demonstrations and international pressure are weakening Maduro’s power by the hour. The people are starting to believe that they could really turn a new page. But the humanitarian situation is still tragic, while it is hoped that the international relief program that involves USA and European Countries, will allow foodstuffs and medicines into the Country even if this required forcing the government blockade.
Children are the victims of the sanctions. “Child malnutrition remains acute, especially the situation of younger children, even though in the present moment it is less severe than it was a year ago, when it spiked to extreme levels – says Susana Raffalli -. In 2016 malnutrition involved 54% of children, 8% experienced acute malnutrition, below subsistence levels. In November 2017, the percentage of undernourished children reached 73%, while the percentage of children at risk of death was 17%. A slow improvement was registered in the course of 2018, as a result of two factors: “The Presidential election campaign occasioned increased financial resources. Furthermore
the population could benefit from the remittances of millions of Venezuelan citizens who in the meantime had fled abroad.
Indeed, it’s extremely sad that children’s lives are saved thanks to mass emigration, and as a result of broken families.” The nutrition expert voiced her concerns: “We are again facing a child nutritional emergency. It’s easy to lapse into the tragic levels of 2018, and international sanctions take the heaviest toll on weaker brackets, which include children.”
Constant monitoring and presence at grassroots level are key to Caritas successful interventions. Faced with this emergency situation Susana created a far-reaching alert and support system named Sistema de monitoreo, alerta y atención en nutrición y salud (Saman). “It reposes on four pillars: constant monitoring to detect the first signs of malnutrition in children and ensure nutritional support; the international Caritas network and its experience, for example in the promotion of ‘Ollas’ (soup kitchens) addressed to everyone, also envisaging targeted interventions; ensuring a territorial presence of Caritas and parishes, which enjoy great credibility among the population at large, in a Country that is presently lacking institutions; a database of situations of need updated in real time.” This has formed the grounds for 19 thousand relief interventions and “in at least 10 thousand cases – the nutritionist pointed out – Caritas saved the lives of these children.”
Providing food aid must not be dictated by military criteria. We cannot refrain from asking the Caritas worker to share her opinion on what is presently a turbulent situation with epicentre in Cúcuta and that involves the massive arrival of humanitarian aids from several Countries. Maduro’s Government has blocked all aids until today and tanks are patrolling the border. “The government is being asked to allow aids into the Country as they represent an opportunity. As Caritas Venezuela we joined in this request. However, it is also largely believed that a forcibly imposed entry of humanitarian aids could be used to justify military intervention. My answer to this claim is,
we do not yield to military criteria.
The aids are of a humanitarian nature. They are not political nor military. It should also be said that aids per se are not enough. There is need for humanitarian intervention, assistance networks. Too many aids arriving at the same time risk burdening already fragile organizations, such as those present in Venezuela.”