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Cuba for the first time asks UN for urgent aid to provide milk for children

The World Food Program has already transported a shipment of 144 tons of skimmed milk powder in a context of deep economic crisis in the country

Cuban government asks for milk
Packages of powdered milk for sale in an establishment in Havana.Yander Zamora (EFE)

Cuba has requested “urgent” assistance from the World Food Program (WFP), a United Nations agency, to facilitate the delivery of milk to children under seven years of age. Although this is not the first time that the island is going through a food crisis, Havana has never before made such a request to the UN. The government has not made a public statement on the request, but the WFP delegation in the country has said that it received “an official communication from the government” and that the shipment of powdered milk, which is rationed and distributed from state warehouses, has already begun.

The WFP — the largest humanitarian agency dedicated to fighting hunger and which provides assistance to more than 90 million people a year worldwide — confirmed to the EFE news agency that the authorities requested help “to continue the monthly delivery of one kilogram of milk for girls and boys under seven years of age throughout the country.” The agency stresses the “urgent need” and “the importance of this request” at a time of “deep economic crisis facing Cuba.” It also assured that the shortage is “significantly impacting the food and nutritional security of the population.” “This is the first time that Cuba has requested support by issuing an official communication at the highest level of management of the WFP,” the agency added, as reported by Havana Live.

The request was made at the end of last year, when the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment (Mincex) sent the letter to the executive management of the WFP in Rome. They also clarified that Cuba “does not refer to any explicit time frame” in its request and that the WFP will attempt to “mobilize additional resources” from “traditional and non-traditional donors” in view of a scenario that does not show any improvement in the country’s economic indicators. The WFP has already sent “144 metric tons of skimmed milk powder,” for almost 48,000 children aged between seven months and three years in Pinar del Río and Havana.

Lack of milk in Cuba, a recurring problem

This is not the first time in Cuba that there have been delays or a total absence of milk in the diets of children, which the government distributes through the so-called supplies booklets, and that only children aged under seven and people with special diets due to chronic diseases receive. Since 2021, the authorities have acknowledged that they do not have a sufficient supply of the product due to delays in imports, the limited availability of financing, and vessels that can transport the milk shipments. At the beginning of 2022, agri-food industry officials stated that they were unable to deliver dietary milk to children and pregnant women. More than one complaint from elderly citizens or mothers desperate for milk has gone viral on social networks. On several occasions, the delivery of milk in Cuba has had to be replaced with syrup or added-vitamin instant soda.

At the end of last year, the ministers of Economy and Energy and Mines appeared on state television to report on how little money the country has to buy food abroad and to guarantee energy supplies. Former minister Alejandro Gil said then that the economy was “in a complex situation” and admitted delays or shortages of milk, coffee and pork for the population.

In February of this year, Minister of Domestic Trade Betsy Díaz Rodríguez admitted that children aged from six months to two years have not received milk since February 5, and assured the government was working on finding alternatives with small- and medium-sized companies. That same month, Cuba received aid of powdered milk, rice, corn, and flour from Brazil, as part of the beginning of a cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates and Cuba. A donation of 500 kilograms of medical supplies and powdered milk also arrived from Spain.

In an attempt to give the economy a breather, at the end of last year the Cuban government launched a package of economic measures that were designed to alleviate the crisis in 2024, but which turned out to be very unpopular due to the increase in the cost of living that it means for Cubans. The authorities not only stopped the implementation of these measures, but also announced the sudden dismissal of Gil after the inflation rate rose by 30% at the end of 2023 and the economy contracted 2%, creating a situation in which thousands of Cubans have turned to emigration as the only way to escape the shortages.

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