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World Food Programme starts distributing food in Venezuela

People queue up outside a public supermarket's doors in Ciudad Bolivar, Venezuela, in April 2015. (iStock/Getty Images)

Reuters — The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said Wednesday it had begun distributing school meals to children in Venezuela, where some seven million people require humanitarian assistance after years of economic collapse in the once-prosperous OPEC nation.

The WFP’s first take-home rations were distributed for children under six years old at some 277 schools and preschools, as well as school staff, in 25 municipalities in northwestern Falcon state, WFP said in a statement.

Since Venezuela’s schools are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, parents or teachers picked up the monthly rations — which consist of six kilograms of rice, four kg of lentils, 454 grams of salt and one litre of vegetable oil — on their behalf, according to Susana Rico, the WFP’s Venezuela representative.

“We are reaching these vulnerable children at a critical stage of their lives when their brains and bodies need nutritious food to develop to their full potential,” Rico was quoted as saying in the statement.

Activists had been clamouring for years for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to allow the WFP to distribute food in the country, which contains the world’s largest crude reserves by some measures, as a drop in crude prices and gaping fiscal deficits led to hyperinflation and recession.

Maduro and the WFP reached a deal in April, in what was seen by some analysts and western diplomats as a concession by the government aimed at getting U.S. sanctions on its oil industry lifted.

More than five million Venezuelans have emigrated, according to the United Nations, while some 60 per cent of households live in poverty, according to the Encovi survey by researchers at Andres Bello Catholic University. Some seven million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations.

WFP aims to feed some 185,000 children by the end of the year, 850,000 by July 2022 and 1.5 million by 2023.

— Reporting for Reuters by Vivian Sequera.

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