Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

A dentist at a medical camp set up by volunteers in Caracas on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 19 February 2019
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Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

  • Volunteer groups have begun meeting in ‘humanitarian camps’

CARACAS: Venezuela has expelled five visiting European lawmakers, an act opposition leader Juan Guaido branded “irrational” as his showdown with President Nicolas Maduro over the arrival of international aid intensifies.
The members of the European Parliament were being tossed out with no explanation, said Spanish MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons, who led the group.
“We are being expelled from Venezuela. Our passports have been seized. They have not informed us of the reason for the expulsion,” Pons said.
The incident on Sunday is the latest point of tension between the international community and Maduro, who is in the grip of a power struggle with Guaido, the head of the National Assembly who proclaimed himself interim president last month.
Guaido has the backing of more than 50 countries including 30 in Europe.
Pons’ fellow Spaniards Jose Ignacio Salafranca and Gabriel Mato Adrover, as well as Esther de Lange of the Netherlands and Paulo Rangel of Portugal, were also expelled. All are members of the conservative European People’s Party (PPE).
Writing on Twitter, Guaido said the MEPs were being “deported by an isolated and increasingly irrational regime.”
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the Europeans had “conspiratorial aims” and were sent back from the country’s main Maiquetia airport.
Earlier Sunday, Guaido set a goal of enlisting a million volunteers within a week to confront a government blockade that has kept tons of humanitarian aid, most of it from the US, from flowing into the country where residents can’t get enough food and say they are dying because of a shortage of medicines.
Guaido has given next Saturday — one month to the day after he proclaimed himself acting president — as the date for a showdown with Maduro over the aid.
Food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements have been stockpiled near the Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia.
Additional storage centers are supposed to open this week in Brazil and Curacao, a Dutch island off Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast.
“Our principal task is to reach a million volunteers by February 23,” Guaido said in a message to the 600,000 supporters who have signed up so far for the push to bring aid in.
Caravans of buses are being planned to carry volunteers to border entry points to meet and transport arriving cargo. Guaido has kept to himself how he plans to overcome the border barriers put up by the Venezuelan military, on Maduro’s orders.
Volunteer groups have begun meeting in “humanitarian camps” in several Venezuelan states to organize and prepare for the aid arrival.
They have started to identify the most vulnerable and have begun caring for the needy in accordance with Guaido’s promises.
Sometimes working under awnings or tents, doctors, nurses, dentists and pediatricians have attended to local residents who can receive donated medications.
Patients arrive with respiratory, skin or other ailments, and suffering from malnutrition.
An imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans to migrate from the oil-rich country. Those who remain have been punished by hyperinflation that has put scarce food and medicine out of reach for many.
Andrea Hernandez, a physical therapy student whose mother is a pediatric nurse, is among those offering her help. Hernandez said her mother often “cried from seeing her patients die from lack of medicine.”
Yorger Maita, a helper from the aid group Rescate Venezuela, said that if foreign aid does not enter “other people will continue to die.”
Maduro, who denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, dismisses the opposition moves as a “political show” and a cover for a US invasion.
US Senator Marco Rubio arrived Sunday in Cucuta for a first-hand look at the aid operations.
“Whoever prevents the entry of humanitarian aid is condemned to spend the rest of their lives fleeing international justice, because that is an international crime,” Rubio said in Spanish.
Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen more tons of food assistance to Cucuta on Saturday.
Another US aircraft is due in Curacao from Miami on Tuesday, and a collection center for Brazilian aid will open Monday on the border, Guaido’s team said.
Venezuelans based in Miami held their own drive, putting together 1,000 crates of food to send to their homeland.
On Friday, Maduro instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Guaido appealed for the military to let the aid pass.
Maduro has dismissed the humanitarian assistance as “crumbs” and “rotten and contaminated food” while blaming shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions.


Millions malnourished in Pakistan despite abundance of food

Updated 15 min 20 sec ago
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Millions malnourished in Pakistan despite abundance of food

KARACHI: A frantic mother cradling her seven-month-old baby rushes toward the special paediatric ward in a desolate Pakistan town, his eyes are blank and he is smaller than most newborns.
He is starving in a country that has no shortage of food, but which has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and where malnutrition is rife.
The infant weighs just 2.5 kilograms — the average for a healthy child of that age is almost three times that.
His case is not unique for the doctors at the Mithi Civil Hospital in hunger-stricken Sindh province where millions survive on less than $1 a day.
Of the 150-250 patients who come in each day, roughly one fifth are suffering from malnutrition, Dr. Dilip Kumar, head of the paediatric department, tells AFP.
Inside the ward, nine other malnourished infants are crying inside glass incubators. A young mother, Nazeeran, clutches the hand of her toddler.
“Her weight is dropping, even though we consulted many doctors,” the 25-year-old says.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a poverty and hunger watchdog, estimates around one in five of Pakistan’s more than 200 million people are malnourished.
And yet, the nation is not short of food — in fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture, it is projected to export 500,000 tons of wheat from May 2018 until April 2019, and 7.4 million tons of rice in the same period.
Dawn, the English-language daily newspaper, even reported a potato glut earlier this month.


The issues, experts say, are socio-economic — that is, just because food is available, does not mean people can access it.
“There are four key pillars of food security in Pakistan: The first is availability, then accessibility, utilization and stability,” says Dr. Ambreen Fatima, senior research economist at the Applied Economic Research Center of the Karachi University.
In Tharparkar, where Mithi Civil Hospital is, all four are lacking, she explains, adding that in other parts of the country they are present only to varying degrees.
“Pakistan is quite well off in wheat production,” comments Dr. Kaiser Bengali, a veteran economist, who has done field research on poverty and hunger in the country, but adds that much of it is sold for export.
This means ordinary people in the country may not have access to it, and if they do they may not have the resources to pay for it.
“Affordability is the biggest challenge here in Pakistan,” he says.
Karachi is Pakistan’s financial capital, but Bengali says he has seen alarming examples of poverty and deprivation there.
“In our surveys we came across the kids who had never eaten an apple, and when we offered him an apple he was reluctant to take the bite wondering whether it was an edible thing or not,” Bengali reveals.
“In another case a family had never had eggs in their whole lives,” he adds.
A survey of the state-run Planning Division in 2017 found that 40 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in multi-dimensional poverty.
That means they are not just short of money, but are also facing a shortage of basic needs, including health, clean water, and electricity, among other factors — all of which can impact their access to food.


“Poor physical infrastructure, particularly in the remote rural areas throughout Pakistan is also a limitation on access to food and influences market prices,” according to a recent statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“This is also linked to inadequate water and sanitation, education and health service delivery, which together with the lack of awareness of appropriate dietary intake contributes to greater food insecurity and malnutrition.”
Tharparkar district is frequently highlighted in Pakistan’s media because of its high rate of child deaths, with politicians blaming the situation on drought — but economists and physicians say that is not the sole explanation.
“Causes of malnutrition are multiple pregnancies, young-aged marriage, iron deficiency in mothers, (lack) of breastfeeding, weak immunization, and early weaning,” Dr. Kumar insists.
Bearing large numbers of children from a young age takes its toll on women’s health, but also impacts the well-being of the fetus and ability to breastfeed a newborn.
In Pakistan, only 38 percent of babies are fed breast milk exclusively during their first six months in line with UN recommendations.
This low figure is blamed on local traditions, the heavy workloads of mothers and powerful marketing by the milk industry.
Many mothers are told to feed their newborns tea, herbs, which can stunt growth. Some are unnecessarily persuaded to use formula instead of breastmilk by doctors.
This can introduce health problems if the water use to make it is unclean, or if poor families scrimp on the amount of powder to create the drink.
Sindh’s high number of child deaths are the result of a vicious poverty cycle that begins with malnourished mothers, agrees Bengali.
He adds: “An infant is not fed with wheat or solid food.”
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