Salma, age 7, fled Venezuela for Colombia with her family.

News / International Day of the Girl 2018

Family Flees Venezuela to Escape Starvation

Some 2.3 million people have fled Venezuela, with as many as 5,000 more crossing the border every day. Seven-year-old Salma is one of them.

Like many Venezuelan girls, 7-year-old Salma fled a country where a near-worthless currency, an inflation rate that could reach 1,000,000 percent before year’s end, and a poverty rate approaching 90 percent have pushed food, medicine, and other necessities out of reach. Before fleeing Venezuela for Colombia, she survived for months on a single daily meal of rice and, if lucky, plantains. Salma’s grandfather Jose, 56, left Venezuela ahead of the family to find work. He slept at gas stations and relied on handouts from strangers for five months.

Malnutrition rates have soared in Venezuela, and mothers, themselves unable to find enough to eat, often are unable to breastfeed their babies. Many of those babies, born healthy, die because their moms and dads can’t find — or can’t afford — formula. Mothers camp overnight outside supermarkets to have any chance of buying the few items available; others have turned to trash to avoid starvation.

Salma, left, and Ariana, right, smile at the camera.
Salma, left, and Ariana, right, fled Venezuela with their family. Photo credit: Paddy Dowling

“People are fleeing because if they stay, they die,” says Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution in a report from the Financial Times. “They die because they don’t get enough food to eat, they die because they get malaria and can’t get treatment, they die because they need dialysis and can’t get it.”


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