CARACAS (Reuters) -The United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) and Venezuelan officials said on Monday they had reached a deal to supply food to school children in the South American country suffering a humanitarian crisis spurred by an economic collapse.
The program will reach 185,000 children in the crisis-stricken country this year, and aims to expand to some 1.5 million by the end of the 2022-2023 school year, the WFP said in a statement. Child malnutrition https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/venezuela-malnutrition has increased in Venezuela as the once-prosperous country's economy collapsed.
"This is the first step toward a series of ambitious projects that will provide food support to all of the Venezuelan people," Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro said in an address from the Miraflores presidential palace broadcast on state television, where visiting World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley was also present.
Humanitarian aid groups have long pushed for Maduro's government to allow the WFP to distribute food aid in Venezuela. The political opposition accuses Maduro's government, which it calls a dictatorship, of conditioning state food assistance on political loyalty, a claim Maduro denies.
"Thank you for allowing us to be independent and to not let any of our work be politicized by anybody," Beasley said. An earlier WFP statement had said schools were the "most appropriate platform" to "reach communities in an independent manner."
Beasley also met with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and ambassadors from several European countries, according to tweets from Guaido and France's ambassador.
The agreement was applauded by Venezuelan aid workers and activists.
"This agreement with the WFP to start operations in Venezuela is of vital importance," Feliciano Reyna, president of Caracas-based aid group Accion Solidaria which focuses on HIV/AIDS treatment and other medical relief, wrote on Twitter. "We hope it will build trust to broaden its areas of action."
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in Caracas; Editing by Leslie Adler and Karishma Singh)