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UN Ramps Up Humanitarian Aid Inside Venezuela

Venezuelans return to their country through the San Antonio del Tachira, Venezuela crossing, after shopping in Cucuta, Colombia, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019.

U.N. aid agencies are ramping up humanitarian aid inside Venezuela, while refusing to weigh in on the controversial political situation dividing the country and international community.

The United Nations reports the humanitarian needs inside Venezuela are critical. It says more than half a dozen U.N. agencies have been scaling up activities to meet the urgent health, nutritional and protection needs of the population since November.

However, it says a shortage of money is hampering its operations. It notes less than half of the U.N.'s $109.5 million appeal has been met.

More than 50 metric tons of U.S. humanitarian aid is being blocked at the Colombia border by disputed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who says there is no humanitarian crisis in his country.

Jens Laerke is spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. He would not comment on the U.S.-Venezuelan standoff but he tells VOA the United Nations is closely monitoring the situation on the border.

"The ideal scenario is that humanitarian aid is provided independent, independent of any political or other considerations, then the pure humanitarian and that is based on need and need alone," Laerke said.

An estimated 3 million Venezuelans have fled chronic food and medical shortages in their country since mid-2017. World Food Program Spokesman, Herve Verhoosel, says people arriving at the Colombia border reflect the depth of misery endured by people in Venezuela.

"1.2 million people just last year; 1.2 million people were coming, starving from Colombia with no money, no food, no medicine," Verhoosel said. "Then there is no question, whatever the numbers are. Yes, of course there is a crisis in the country."

Verhoosel says the U.N. helps people in need in an impartial manner, independent of politics. He says the U.N. does not take sides. He says WFP is prepositioning food in Colombia, which will be distributed to the hungry inside Venezuela as soon as it receives authorization to enter the country.