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Venezuelan Children Get International Food Aid

FILE - Venezuelan migrant children line up inside a coliseum where a temporary camp has been set up, after fleeing their country due to military operations, according to the Colombian migration agency, in Arauquita, Colombia, March 26, 2021.

The World Food Program says it has delivered a first batch of food for thousands of school children in Venezuela.

The delivery follows a deal concluded earlier this year between the U.N. food agency and the government of Venezuela.

Schools in Venezuela currently are closed. So, World Food Program spokesman Tomson Phiri says his agency will provide take-home rations, which families will pick up at the schools where the children are enrolled.

"Our plan is to start, is to reach gradually 185,000 people, including children under the age of six and school staff by the end of the year," Phiri said. "The ration that I have spoken about is enough to cover a child for 30 days, which is a month.”

The WFP says 42,000 food packages have arrived at its logistics hub in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city. Each package contains more than 11 kilograms of food, including rice, lentils, iodized salt, and vegetable oil.

Venezuela’s once prosperous economy has been in free-fall since President Nicolas Maduro came to power more than eight years ago. The United Nations says more than 5.3 million people have fled the country because of political repression and harsh economic conditions.

Official figures about the health status of Venezuelans are not available. A WFP study in 2020 suggests, however, one in three Venezuelans do not have enough nutritious food to eat daily.

A study by the Swiss charity Caritas of five Venezuelan states and the capital, Caracas, found 16 percent of children under five suffer from acute malnutrition. The condition can cause stunting, wasting, cognitive difficulties and even death.

The WFP says its work in Venezuela will focus on the provision of nutritious school meals, the rehabilitation of school canteens, and the training of school staff to observe and implement the highest food safety practices.

The agency says it hopes to expand its school feeding program to include 1.5 million children and school personnel by the end of the 2022-2023 academic year.