Venezuela is currently suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The country has experienced 7 years of economic contraction, hyperinflation, political polarization and institutional challenges, which have caused large-scale human suffering.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has estimated that there are 7 million people in need in the country, and according to ACAPS this number reaches more than 13 million. The crisis is complex because it is multidimensional, including acute food insecurity, significant flows of migrants and refugees, the collapse of the health-care system, systematic violations of human rights and crimes against humanity.

These different elements are mixed with structural issues, such as democratic deficit, political unrest, the collapse of the judicial system, economic contraction and hyperinflation.

The severity index of the Venezuelan crisis has been estimated at 4.1/5, which is considered as very high and is similar to the index of other crises, namely Syria (4.7), Myanmar (3.5), Libya (4.2) and Yemen (4.6). Unlike these other crises, the situation in Venezuela has not received a clear and strong response from the international community, and the lack of response from the Security Council and other UN political bodies is especially noticeable.

In this context, this document seeks to compare the venezuelan crisis with other humanitarian crises worldwide. In order to achieve this objective, the document analysis and compares different dimensions of the crises, namely, the number of people in need in the country, the level of food insecurity, the flows of migration and refugees, the access to humanitarian aid and, lastly, the existence of a non-traditional armed conflict and the perpetration of atrocity crimes.

Comparative analysis of indicators of the crises: People in need, severity of the crisis, flows of migrants and refugees, food insecurity, humanitarian access, perpetration of atrocity crimes and existence of an armed conflict.

1.- People in need in the country

According to OCHA, the humanitarian situation in Venezuela continues to have an impact on the physical and mental well-being, living conditions and protection of the 7 million people who are estimated to have humanitarian needs. This makes Venezuela one of the countries with most people in humanitarian need worldwide.

StatePeople in Need
South Soudan8.300.000
People in need according to OCHA

CountryPeople AffectedPeople in NeedPeople Displaced
South Sudan 7.200.0004.381.000
People in need according to ACAPS

2.- Indicators of crisis severity

The INFORM Global Crisis Severity Index (GCSI) seeks to provide an improved method for quantitatively measuring crisis severity. The GCSI is a composite indicator, bringing together 31 indicators about the specific crisis or the affected country that directly or indirectly measure the components of the analytical framework (for example, the area affected, number of people in need and access situation).

The severity Index of the Venezuelan crisis has been estimated at 4.1/5, on a scale from 0 to 5 where 0 means the lowest severity and 5 the highest, which is considered as extreme humanitarian conditions.

According to the guidance note of the GCSI, in countries with this level, ‘people are facing extreme shortages or availability and accessibility problems in regards to basic services. People face a complete lack of food and/or other basic needs and starvation, death, and destitution are evident’.

CountryCrisis SeverityImpactHumanitarian ConditionsComplexityAccess ConstraintsSeverity category
Venezuela4.1543.34Very High
Syria4. High
Sudan4.54.1543Very High
Libya4.244.24.45Very High
Yemen4. High
INFORM Global Crisis Severity Index

3.- Flow of migration and refugees

The venezuelan exodus is the largest in the recent history of Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the UNHCR, there are currently 5.4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela worldwide, with 4.6 million in the region alone and over 800,000 asylum-seekers from Venezuela. The reasons why millions of venezuelans have been forced to migrate and, in many cases, to become refugees, are linked to the humanitarian and political crisis in the country, and include food shortages, high prices and lack of basic services.

In 2018, Venezuela was the largest source country of asylum claims in the world, with over 340,000 new asylum claims submitted by the end of the year. At the end of 2019, Venezuela was part of the five countries with more displacements across borders worldwide.

Since 2014, there has been an 8.000 per cent increase in the number of Venezuelans seeking refugee status worldwide. Many Venezuelans are at risk of labour and sexual exploitation, trafficking, violence, discrimination and xenophobia because of their migration status.

The journey to the receiving country also represents a risk. A lot of Venezuelans migrating to neighbouring countries are families with children, pregnant women, elderly people and people with disabilities. Because of the high cost of the journey and the current closure of the border with Colombian, they are often obliged to take irregular routes to reach safety, making them potential victims for smugglers, traffickers and irregular armed groups. Venezuelan migrants are in need of international protection, documentation, protection, shelter, food and medicine.

According to the Regional Refugee and Migrant Response Plan for January – December 2021, it is estimated that in 2021 the number of Venezuelan migrants and refugees will reach 8.13 million.

 SyriaVenezuelaSouth SudanMyanmar
Refugees and Migrants6.6 million5.4 million2.2 million1.1 million
Number of Refugees and Migrants according to the UNCHR (2021)

4.- Food insecurity

According to the research done by the World Food Programme (WFP), the Venezuelan population is suffering from acute food insecurity.[1] Venezuela is currently one of the world’s hotspots of the most concerning acute food insecurity. Around 9.3 million Venezuelans – 32% of the total population – were food insecure and in need of assistance according to WFP’s Emergency Food Security Assessment carried out in July–September 2019.

The last report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA) states that the increase in undernourishment observed in recent years in South America is mainly driven by the situation in Venezuela, where the Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU) has increased from 2.5 percent in 2010–2012 to 31.4 percent in 2017–2019. The decline in food security and nutrition levels and quality is the consequence of the political and economic crisis.

 Total PopulationCountry’s population in Crisis (IPC Phase 3 or worse)IPC Phase 2 Stressed IPC Phase 3 CrisisIPC Phase 4 EmergencyIPC Phase 5 Catastrophe
Venezuela28.5 Million32% 9.3 Million17 Million7 Million2.3 MillionX
Syria18.3 Million36% 6.6 Million2.6 Million6.6 MillionXX
South Sudan11.4 Million61% 7 Million3.2 Million5.1 Million1.8 Million21.000
Sudan42.8 Million14% 5.9 Million11.8 Million4.8 Million1.0 MillionX
Yemen29.9 Million53 % 15.9 Million8.9 Million10.9 Million5 Million64.000

Food crises in the situations analysed according to the Global Report on Food Crises (2020)

5.- Humanitarian Access

The level of constraints to humanitarian access is measured by ACAPS using a range of qualitative information sources together with relevant datasets. The methodology consists of the analysis of nine indicators, which include among others restrictions of access to services and assistance and the existence of ongoing insecurity or hostilities. Each indicator is scored on scale which goes from 0 (no significant access constraints) to 5 (extreme constraints).

According to the last report of ACAPS, Venezuela is categorized as having very high constraints for humanitarian access in Venezuela (Level 4), being classified at the same level as Myanmar and South Sudan.

The major obstacles for humanitarian access in Venezuela are restriction of access to services and assistance, restriction of movement within the country, interference with humanitarian activities, violence against personnel, facilities and assets and physical constraints in the environment. The information provided by ACAPS reports that humanitarian access is also obstructed by the fact that there are entire areas under the control of armed groups, or paramilitary forces.

Extreme ConstraintsVery High ConstraintsHigh Constraints
LibyaSouth Sudan 
Humanitarian Access Overview (December 2020)

6.- The existence of a traditional armed conflict or perpetration of atrocity crimes

Aside from the economic and social situation, at least since 2014, the Venezuelan government has carried out systematic human rights violations. This has been reported by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020, by the Human Rights Council in 2018, 2019 and 2020 and by the Organization of American States, amongst others. The perpetration of atrocity crimes and the systematic human rights violations have worsened the crisis, increased the political tensions in the country and forced many venezuelans to seek asylum or refuge in other countries.

As a consequence of the seriousness and scale of this situation, the UN Human Rights Council decided to establish a Fact-Finding Mission in order to investigate human rights violations in the country which have taken place since 2014. The situation in Venezuela is also being examined by the Office of the Prosecution (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

In 2020, the Fact-Finding Mission found reasonable grounds to believe that Venezuelan authorities and security forces have, since 2014, planned and executed serious human rights violations, some of which – including arbitrary killings and the systematic use of torture – amount to crimes against humanity.

There are currently two situations on Venezuela under preliminary examination at the ICC. In 2020, the prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that her office concluded in the situation Venezuela I that there is reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Venezuela since at least April 2017. The OTP there is a reasonable basis to believe that since at least April 2017, civilian authorities, members of the armed forces and pro-government individuals have committed the crimes against humanity of imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape and/or other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity, persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political grounds.

According to the information provided by the OTP, members of the security forces are allegedly responsible for the physical commission of these crimes. The authorities involved in the crimes include the Bolivarian National Police (PNB), the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN), the Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence (DGCIM), the Special Action Forces (FAES), the Scientific, Penal and Criminal Investigation Corps (CICPC), the Bolivarian National Guard (GNB), the National Anti-Extortion and Kidnapping Command (CONAS), and certain other units of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB).

The preliminary examination of the situation Venezuela I is currently in phase 3 and a formal investigation could be opened during the first six months of 2021.

The prosecutor is also analysing the situation Venezuela II referred by the government of Maduro. According to the referral, the Prosecutor should open an investigation on crimes against humanity committed “as a result of the application of unlawful coercive measures adopted unilaterally by the government of the United States of America against Venezuela, at least since the year 2014.

Most of the crises analysed in this document have situations under investigation of the International Criminal Court, such as Sudan, Libya and Myanmar. In the case of Sudan and Libya, the situations were referred by the Security Council because none of them is a party to the Rome Statute. There are no situations at the Court regarding Syria and Yemen, who are also not a party to the Rome Statute.

In the case of Yemen, on the 3th of december od 2020, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen (GEE) briefed the UN Security Council in a closed session on its third report “A Pandemic of Impunity in a Tortured Land” in which it detailed serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Venezuela has been a party to the Rome Statute since 2000. The preliminary examination of the situation in Venezuela was opened on 8 February 2018 by the decision of the Prosecutor. Additionally, on 27 September 2018, the OTP received a referral from a group of States Parties to the Statute, namely the Argentine Republic, Canada, the Republic of Colombia, the Republic of Chile, the Republic of Paraguay and the Republic of Peru regarding the situation of Venezuela.

The absence of a traditional armed conflict in Venezuela, has been understood as one of the reasons why the situation is not considered as relevant to the international community as other crises around the world with similar numbers and dynamics. However, there is room for discussion regarding this absence of an armed conflict in the territory. Apart from the perpetration of crimenes against humanities and systematic human rights violations, there is presence of diverse armed groups in the Venezuelan territory which even have control over certain areas.

6.1 Presence of armed groups in the territory

The presence of armed groups with control over venezuelan territory has been denounced by venezuelan and international organizations. According to the venezuelan organization Fundaredes, the different armed groups operating in the country include 9 fronts of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), 10 fronts of the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Bolivarian Forces of Liberation (FBL), the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), the Rastrojos, the Urabeños, the Aguilas Negras and the United Self-Defences of Colombia (AUCV). The operate in at least 19 of the 24 states across the country.

In 2019, Human Rights Watched denounced that in the Venezuelan state of Apure, non-state armed groups use violence to control peoples’ daily lives, imposing their own rules, and enforcing compliance by threatening civilians on both sides of the Venezuelan-Colombian border and subjecting those who do not obey to punishments ranging from fines to forced labor to killings.

According to the organisation, there is evicende that armed groups on both sides of the border exercise control through threats, kidnappings, forced labor, child recruitment, and murder and that in Arauca, armed groups have also planted landmines and perpetrated sexual violence, among other abuses. Additionally, they reported that the ELN and some dissident groups of the FARC engage in recruiting Colombian and Venezuelan children in both Arauca and Apure, according to human rights officials, humanitarian actors, and residents. As part of the recruitment, the armed groups often offer payment, motorcycles, and guns to children to convince them. There are also reports of members of the group committing sexual violence against girls, including rape and forced abortion.

The possibility that the dynamics between these different groups and the hostilities they incur in between them and also with the Venezuelan state forces could meet the necessary requirements to be considered as a low of medium-intensity conflict and the spillover effect it could have in the region are aspects to be discussed and examined by the international community and especifically by the Security Council and other UN bodies.

According to the Global Conflict Tracker, the crisis in Venezuela is one currently of the most worsening conflict worlwide in the same level of the war in Afghanistan, the North Korea Crisis, and the war in Yemen among others. Mapping of Conflicts of the Global Conflict Tracker
Peace for Venezuela

Peace for Venezuela is a campaign that aims to break down the information bias surrounding the Venezuelan crisis within the international community and promote a stronger and more constructive role for the United Nations.