Check Against Delivery
This is obviously an extremely severe humanitarian crisis. It was a dire situation before the outbreak of COVID-19, and now with these new challenges, the situation is even more challenging. Venezuela continues to battle an unprecedented humanitarian emergency that has already compelled more than 5 million Venezuelans to seek refuge in neighboring countries, often in search of medicine and basic health services. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic will further exacerbate this crisis. Infectious diseases thrive under the conditions of poverty and malnutrition that many Venezuelans face. I think it's worth recalling that 7 million people required humanitarian assistance before COVID-19 arrived in Venezuela.
Last week, the World Food Program mentioned Venezuela among the countries that are currently most affected by food crises. We fear that the current challenges will further aggravate this in a very serious way. Even basic measures preventing the spread of the pandemic, such as hand-washing and social distancing, will be very difficult to implement in a country where only 18 percent of people have access to clean water, supplies are expensive, fuel shortages are causing growing complications for the production and delivery of food, and especially people in the informal sector are hardly able to make a living. Furthermore, the protracted political crisis entire economic situation, for which the Maduro regime carries the full responsibility, have led to the collapse of Venezuela's health care system.
In 2019, last year, Venezuela had the world's steepest rise and malaria cases. Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and diphtheria had already returned long before the pandemic hit. Hospitals unfortunately lack basic supplies needed to prevent infection and treat illnesses. Many of them are without regular access to water and electricity, let alone medicine and respirators or protective equipment for doctors and nurses. According to the International Rescue Committee, nearly half of all doctors left Venezuela and there are only roughly slightly more than 80 ICU beds for a population of 32 million.
Clearly, in the context of collapsing infrastructures, mass migration and the government in denial about the humanitarian emergency, COVID-19 could have truly disastrous consequences. For that reason, the Venezuelan authorities need to ensure that all relevant information on the pandemic reaches everyone without exception, and that there is transparency in combating this health crisis. Public health data must be released to inform preparations for a coronavirus response and strengthen laboratory capacities so that COVID-19 can be diagnosed early.
It is imperative for the international community to not leave the Venezuelan people alone. Standing by them requires us to provide sufficient humanitarian assistance first and foremost through the United Nations. My EU colleagues have already alluded to the fact that the EU is the largest donor to Venezuela to cover and deal with the humanitarian crisis. I think this is worth mentioning again. Germany bilaterally also has delivered very significant assistance to humanitarian actors in Venezuela this year already and further projects are being planned. Humanitarian actors also need unimpeded and sustained access to the most vulnerable and must be able to deliver humanitarian assistance in full accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.
Be to urge the Maduro regime to grant this access nationwide. Let me also reiterate that humanitarian assistance must not be exploited for political purposes or used as a propaganda tool. The politicization of the delivery of humanitarian assistance runs counter to the humanitarian mandate and undermines the safety and security of humanitarian workers. We call instead for a united attempt to combat COVID-19 that includes all political actors. The National Assembly has made a number of constructive proposals to strengthen the health care system, retain doctors and nurses, and use additional funds. The authorities of Venezuela and we as international community should make our best efforts to use all the available resources.
Before I conclude, let me also make the point my EU colleagues have made on sanctions. Like them, I would like to underline that sanctions in no way stand in the way of or impede the global fight against COVID-19 or more broadly, the provision of humanitarian assistance. EU sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans are indeed very individual and targeted, aimed at those responsible for the policies or actions that violate international law or human rights and aggravate conflicts. They are designed not to affect the population at large when it comes to humanitarian crises. To put it even more clear: EU sanctions imposed against Venezuela, do not apply to humanitarian assistance and humanitarian activities, including medical assistance.
Before I conclude, let me briefly refer to our discussion last Tuesday. Today is about humanitarian issues. I will not go into details, but I think it's worth mentioning again: the origins of the ongoing crisis in Venezuela are political, hence the solution can only be a political one.
Thank you very much.