It is “common” for Venezuelans to hear daily complaints about the increase in food prices, long lines to get fuel, poor internet connectivity, failures in telecommunications, electricity and basic services, which end up undermining the Human Rights of the people. Also, it is “normal” to attribute these faults to the “humanitarian crisis” the country is going through; but is that the correct term? el término correcto?
The United Nations (UN) limits a humanitarian crisis to emergency situations resulting from disasters, either due to natural events, or those derived from high-intensity armed conflicts that endanger the lives of a considerable number of people.
Now, given the meaning of the term, and due to situations that we will see later, we must define the current situation in Venezuela. The South American country is experiencing what is known as a “Complex Humanitarian Emergency” (CHE) as it is (according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – FAO) the result of a combination of political instability, conflicts and violence, social inequalities and underlying poverty.
In other words, a Complex Humanitarian Emergency cannot be declared if a strictly political cause does not intervene in its origins. To be defined that way it must seriously affects all areas of life, by disrupting economic, political and socio-cultural systems, causing fundamental rights, such as law to food, health and education -among many others- to broke down.
Each Complex Humanitarian Emergency is differentiated by the factors that compose it, such as the causal elements, events and resolutions it has. However, they tend to have the same characteristics to a greater or lesser degree, as it has been caused by political actions.
The Dictionary of Humanitarian Action and Development Cooperation sets out the following characteristics of a Complex Humanitarian Emergency:
• Weak states with high levels of poverty.
• Collapse of the formal economy and the rise of the informal economy articulated through clandestine networks.
• Civil or internal conflict, stimulated by the political economy of war.
• Increase in malnutrition, poverty and epidemics.
• Exodus and forced migrations, caused by the need to seek help.
In the case of Venezuela, all these factors are combined. However, it is difficult to determine to what degree each one is manifested, since there are no official statistics. An example of this is the 2019 Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of Human Rights in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela:
– OHCHR collected and reviewed, including official government documents, open source reports, legislation and legal documentation, medical and forensic reports, media content (including social media), videos, and photographs.
OHCHR refers to official information and data whenever possible, but notes that access to such material is limited, as official publications, including statistics, have been scarce and non-existent in some areas, at least since 2015. –
Despite the lack of data for the present analysis, the research and follow-up work carried out by HUMVENEZUELA has been taken into account. HUMVENEZUELA is an effort made by various NGOs together with the purpose of collecting data and creating reports on the Complex Humanitarian Emergency.
On the other hand, returning to the definition of the “atypical” emergency that Venezuela is facing, fits into the concept of Complex Humanitarian Emergency, coined by the UN at the end of the 1980s to differentiate the major crises that have been generated. The term began to be used, as an extended definition, to refer to the desperate situations that plagued the republics of Mozambique and Sudan, in which the worsening of their armed conflicts (of very complicated social characteristics) date back to the last decades of 20th century.
Some historical background
The first two decades of the 21st century consolidated the use of the term that has been applied to a group of nations that face conflicts of great magnitude, and that allows them to be classified within a catalog of countries that should be looked at carefully and given help .
Sudan, the northeastern African country that borders Egypt, has been facing various episodes of civil wars that end and begin again for more than 70 years. Basically originated by territorial, ethnic, religious and economic reasons that are crossed by various political crises that could be summarized – if it is not so complicated to dare to do so – in a great conflict for power, it is probably the first country to which the United Nations Organization qualified as a victim of a Complex Humanitarian Emergency. Its problematic diversity of issues also gave rise to the considerations that must be taken into account when measuring the impact of a humanitarian crisis.
It was therefore important, almost simultaneously, when the UN was dealing with the very serious problems of the Republic of Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in the world, also part of the African continent, which, however, seems to be experiencing an economic rebound thanks to agreements of peace in a civil war that lasted for approximately 15 years.
Although it is not easy to establish a historical moment in which the concept of Complex Humanitarian Emergency became part of the list of adjectives that a country in trouble can receive, the cases of Sudan and Mozambique are relevant because they gave rise to the use of the term and defined the element that makes the humanitarian emergency complex: the political origin of the problem.
A podium of conflicts
Yemen, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and Syria, accompany Venezuela and a few other nations, in the recognition of their political and social crises as a Complex Humanitarian Emergency by decision of various agencies of the United Nations, because their extraordinary circumstances lead to local capacities being overcome due to a crisis in which the lives of nationals are in imminent risk.
The case of Yemen is particularly striking because for now there is not the slightest indication that an armistice will be reached to end the civil war that has plagued them since 2015, originated by conflicting political interests. It is also because it is one of the most complex cases of EHC currently being discussed in the world and its breakdown could take many pages. However, the comparison is interesting: Yemen has been experiencing a war declared as such for 7 years, in which there have been serious human rights violations.
Amnesty International, for example, has made serious complaints about the precarious situation of the Yemeni civilian population and its struggle for survival, and various NGOs of international scope have described the Yemeni problem as insoluble, until now.
Its most remarkable conclusion is the same that can be said of the civilian populations of all the named countries and, also, of Nigeria, South Sudan, Burkina Faso and Somalia. The political problem of all these countries has transcended the mere establishment on which power is based and has unfortunately convulsed the lives of their citizens.
That is where the genesis of the matter lies, considering also that, the only country on that list that does not experience a civil war – or of another type – formally declared and that, even, could be recognized as a “democratic” country, objectively speaking, is Venezuela. The totalitarian government of Nicolás Maduro has been consecutively elected by Venezuelans, although the world is beginning to recognize that such elections have not been free or transparent. Even so, it is not enough to insist that the cause that makes the subsistence of a good number of its inhabitants very difficult is a political conflict in which the military establishment is greatly involved.
Let’s talk about Venezuela
Among the few things that are not opaque in Venezuela, the assurance that the humanitarian crisis has an almost absolute political origin occupies the first place. All sectors, including a large group of dissident Chavistas, believe that the solution to the serious social conflict in the country necessarily involves a redirection of the government. What seems to be a general opinion is that Venezuela needs a complete political change that renews, absolutely, all instances of decision-making and the exercise of power.
That is the way most of the actors involved and the people who live in the country seem to think; not only because of the pressures to which the Venezuelan political system is subjected for different reasons, and the interests that loom over the outcome of the conflict, but also because “the humanitarian” is an arena of political dispute by its nature.
It is important to be aware that appealing to humanitarianism (for those who hold power) has always been a temptation, since it helps to cover political actions with legitimacy and good intentions, which would otherwise affect their prestige.
Even so, humanitarianism is defined by causing opposition and, while reviewing the long history of moments that has led Venezuela to face this Complex Humanitarian Emergency, it is good to make a small point regarding the humanitarian fact.
Says Marie-Pierre Allié (former President of the French section of Doctors Without Borders):
– “The political exploitation of aid is not a misuse of their vocation, but their main condition of its existence.”
Those words of Allié say a lot to the people of Venezuela, even if they have never been heard: one of the events that opened the EHC gap in the country has undoubtedly been humanitarianism and its political exploitation.
After a few years, then, and putting everything on the table, there is no doubt: Venezuela is going through a Complex Humanitarian Emergency, (admitted among other agencies by FAO) since at least the end of 2015. A year that is especially easy to recall for the inhabitants of Venezuela since perhaps it is the year of the “breaking point”. Just the year in which all indicators of well-being definitely collapsed and phenomena, such as forced migration, gave a good account of the despair of those who “live there.”
How can one explain with arguments of some kind the deterioration of a country that for more than four decades (since 1958) had consolidated itself as one of the most stable democracies and one of the most prosperous economies in Latin America, which had the advantages of being a country with the highest oil income on the planet, at times having the highest GDP per capita in the region?
It is just one of the questions that analysts, with different levels of academic preparation, try to answer on a recurring basis, and it is also the question most often asked by those who suffer from the ravages of the problem.
The answer to that difficult question is lost in analysis and opinions. The truth is that it is a bit difficult to establish a starting point for the Complex Humanitarian Emergency in the country in which the government established by Hugo Chávez in 1999, has been climbing what seems to be a mountain of difficulties whose vortex is a definitive political conflict of governability, which has devastated the quality of life of several million people who are reluctant to leave their country.
By 2021, Venezuela registers the largest humanitarian crisis in the Western Hemisphere, which causes, among other things, a fall in its GDP by almost 70% and an unprecedented hyperinflationary phenomenon for the region of more than 400% until July, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Finance (OVF).
Some numbers for a complex tragedy
There are data that speak for themselves: the destruction of the public health system causes serious damage to the health of millions of Venezuelans and has become a cause for emigration. It is estimated that an approximate number of 18.4 million people suffering from different health conditions are in danger: 14.8 million do not have health services, 11.4 million do not have the means to face the economic costs of a disease and 7.9 million people could die from lack of attention to their serious health problems, just to mention some of the revealing data that can be seen on the portal saludconlupa.org.
In Venezuela there is no updated census of inhabitants, therefore it is almost impossible to establish a reliable data. According to the ENCOVID 2019 report, published on the website debatesiesa.com, subjects such as education, shows that 3 out of 10 people are outside the educational system and 1,318,000 children run the risk of being completely excluded. Moreover, an estimated 10% the “official” enrollment is experiencing an unprecedented level of impact and is not going trough solutions of any kind.
Actually, it is not crazy to say that chaos plagues all areas of everyday life. In Venezuela, basic services frequently fail at an alarming rate, leaving entire populations with drinking water deficiencies totaling 6 or 8 months a year; as well as cities that average totals of approximately 33% of the useful time without electricity, according to reports from the Committee for those affected by blackouts in Venezuela and the portal Aulaabierta.org. In the case of the state of Mérida, the PROMEDEHUM organization counted 1,623 hours without electricity on average, between March 01 2020 and March 30 2021.
Food, public transportation, clothing and leisure have been extraordinarily affected by the fall in the value of the currency and the de facto dollarization that the erratic Venezuelan economy has become.
According to reports, without verification, from the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the population would reach almost 33 million people by 2021, for the Latin American and Caribbean Demographic Center (CELADE), the population in Venezuela for 2020 was 28,435 .943 inhabitants.
International organizations estimate Venezuelan forced migration at a little more than 5.7 million people; but, the truth is that this is also a sub register. It has been said that an approximate 1500/2000 people leave Venezuela weekly, walking through the Colombian-Venezuelan border. If that is true, the crisis is growing enormously as it is being exported to neighboring countries, unprepared to welcome such a number of new inhabitants.
However, the impact that the destruction of living conditions has caused to the inhabitants of Venezuela can only be calculated from unofficial data.
The present work, then, proposes a kind of “panning” on the different edges that living in the context of a Complex Humanitarian Emergency has and will be developing over the next few weeks. Venezuela transcends, by far, the 5 fundamental characteristics that conceptualize the term; however, we are sure that in the midst of the serious difficulty, and the high emotional cost, the Venezuelan community is clinging to something, often intangible, to cover the crisis.
Although there is no intention of making an analysis of any of the social, humanitarian or political solutions put on the table, it is important to reinforce the state of permanent search for solutions that the population of Venezuela faces every day.
It is quite probable that this way of understanding what cannot be normalized and of making “common” a complaint of poor services, poor quality of life and high hopelessness, is what allows us to definitively understand the concept Complex Humanitarian Emergency and, in its complexity, make it livable until it can be solved.
Not in vain it is also often said that “hope is the last thing that is lost”.
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