Water from sewer pipes, cooking with tiny candles, and a Happy Meal that costs a month's pay: Photos by ordinary Venezuelans show life under an economic meltdown

Marcelot/Yepez/INSIDERA compilation of pictures that Venezuelans said represented their everyday lives: People collecting water from a leaking pipe, a Happy Meal worth more than a monthly salary, and a tree made of worthless cash.
  • Power blackouts, hyperinflation, and chronic shortages have become parts of everyday life for millions of Venezuelans.
  • Five people sent INSIDER pictures showing what it’s like to live through the humanitarian crisis.
  • Whether meat rotting in a warm fridge or a Happy Meal that is worth more than a monthly salary, they see the effects of the crisis everywhere.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Venezuela continues to spiral into a worsening humanitarian crisis as the government and the opposition jostle for support.

More than 3 million people have left the South American country. For those who have stayed, crippling power blackouts, hyperinflation, and chronic food and medicine shortages are their everyday reality.

INSIDER asked Venezuelans to send in pictures that best captured their lives under the crisis.

The internet in Venezuela frequently fails, which can make communication difficult and slow. The photographs were taken in March and April and reached INSIDER piecemeal over the past few weeks.

They show life before the failed uprising last week, led by opposition politician Juan Guaidó. Despite the drama of Guaidó’s gambit, little has changed for ordinary people. Here is what they showed us.

This worthless “money tree” uses black humour to show Venezuela’s hyperinflation.

(Jesus Yepez)A tree decorated with bolívares and Monopoly money.

This photo is from Jesus Yepez, an architect who lives in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.

He found this “money tree” in the street, made mostly from bills in Venezuela’s currency, the bolívar soberano, on the street.

Skyrocketing hyperinflation has made cash almost worthless: $US1 is worth roughly 5,200 bolívares soberanos.

Yepez saw local workers adding their tips to the tree, while other people contributed Monopoly money.

“Many people commented that that is what our currency has turned into: Monopoly money,” he told INSIDER. “It’s an ingenious protest for the insane inflation we’ve been experiencing.”

You can follow Jesus Yepez on Instagram.

This man is hunting for food in a garbage dumpster — now an everyday sight in Caracas.

(Jesus Yepez)A man sifting through the trash, most likely in the search for food.

As prices for basic goods like food and medicine have soared, it is pretty common to see people sifting through the trash in the streets of Caracas.

Yepez observed this young man, most likely in search of food, clothes, or plastic containers that he could sell.

“I could see by his face that he was hungry,” Yepez said.

Another photo shows a McDonald’s in Caracas offering a Happy Meal for 18,500 bolívares — more than the monthly minimum wage.

(Jesus Yepez)A McDonald’s menu advertising a Happy Meal that costs as much as the monthly minimum wage.

When Yepez took his daughter to buy an ice cream at a McDonald’s – a special treat – the price of the Happy Meal immediately caught his attention.

The meal – a Cajita Feliz in Spanish – cost 18,500 bolívares soberanos, or $US3.50, a little more than the minimum monthly wage at the time in March.

The government has since raised the wage to 40,000 bolívares soberanos ($US7.70).

Yepez said the restaurant was mostly empty since eating out had become so expensive.

“Seeing how grave the crisis is, all we can do is ‘be happy,'” he said.

“Medicine urgently” scrawled on the side of a highway highlights the chronic — and sometimes deadly — lack of supplies.

(Jesus Yepez)Graffiti on the side of a bridge says ‘Medicine urgently.’

“This is more than a simple graffiti,” Yepez wrote on his Instagram post about this spray-painted message on the side of a highway bridge, which means “medicine urgently.”

Venezuelans have experienced an acute medicine shortage as the economy crumbles and the government can’t afford to import basic drugs and supplies.

Yepez says he has struggled to buy something as simple as flu medicine.

“But my flu is a grain of sand in light of the mountain of needs,” he wrote.

He said other people he knew were looking for even more scarce things like morphine to deal with problems like metastases – painful growths spreading through the bodies of people with cancer.

One of the most desperate scenes shows a crowd of people collecting water from a leaking sewer pipe, after the running water to their homes stopped.

(Stephanie Vita Marcelot)People collecting water from a leaking pipe at Guaire River during a blackout.

This photo is from Stephanie Vita Marcelot, an administrator in Caracas.

She captured people crowding around a leaking sewage drain to collect water to drink and bathe in during a blackout that stopped running water from getting to their homes.

Water pumps have been failing regularly because of crippling power failures.

On this day in early March, Marcelot saw people of all ages taking plastic containers, pots, and pans to collect water. Others bathed or played in the leak, she said.

The water was running clear, Marcelot said, even though it came out of dirty pipes that feed into the polluted Guaire River.

“The sad reality was that no one had the faintest idea what risk they were taking by collecting this water, even if they just use it to shower,” she told INSIDER.

“Many people told me they had gone days without running water, and this was the only place they could get it.”

Though the power failures were at their worst in March and April, many parts of the capital still struggle with water shortages, she said.

You can follow Stephanie Vita Marcelot on Instagram.

Frequent blackouts also mean no electric lighting. These ketchup bottles, turned into kerosene lamps, are a makeshift way to light one’s home.

(Dinora Lucia Villalba Navarro)Self-made kerosene lamps to use during blackouts.

This photo is from Dinora Lucia Villalba Navarro, an engineer in the northern city of Maracay.

She started making her own kerosene lamps with her husband when nationwide blackouts kicked off in March.

“With so many days without electricity, one needs a generator, which many of us don’t have,” she told INSIDER.

Intermittent power failures still persist in Maracay. That means Villalba cannot count on light, water, gas, refrigeration, phone service, internet, or ATMs.

The DIY lamps have been popular among friends and colleagues, she said, because they don’t require electricity or expensive, scarce batteries.

She said she also taught her brother how to make them because he broke his nose in the dark during one blackout.

It’s also hard to cook with no power. This photo shows an improvised stove, used to cook an arepa from the heat of a single candle.

(Stiven Landeata)A stove Landaeta improvised when the gas wasn’t working during the blackout.

This photo is from Stiven Landaeta, an economics student from Mérida in northwestern Venezuela.

He improvised this stove with a candle because the gas was not working during one of the many power failures.

“And we managed to eat. It was slow, but we made it,” he told INSIDER.

He said he had not eaten since breakfast when he finally had his arepa, at 10:30 p.m.

Landaeta said he could not buy food because the card readers were down, and barely anyone in Venezuela used cash since the hyperinflation began.

You can follow Stiven Landaeta on Instagram.

This pile of worthless cash is another reminder of the grim economic situation.

(Stiven Landeata)A stack of money in the old currency, bolívares fuertes, which went out of circulation last year.

Landaeta still has a mound of cash in the old currency – the bolívar fuerte – which was in circulation until August.

The pile of money was worth almost nothing even before it was replaced by the bolívar soberano.

President Nicolás Maduro slashed five zeroes from the new currency to combat the hyperinflation, but prices have continued to soar.

Bloomberg’s Cafe con Leche Index found that annual inflation hit 199,900% on May 1.

Even if you can get hold of food, the lack of proper refrigeration means it can easily rot, like this.

(Provided)The photographer had to throw out 4 kilograms, or 8.8 pounds, of rotten beef during a blackout.

This photo is from a Caracas woman who asked to stay anonymous.

She said she had to throw out 4 kilograms, or 8.8 pounds, of beef during one of the blackouts in the capital of Caracas.

Her food started rotting after spending days in a warm fridge.

“Meat is really expensive here,” she told INSIDER. “The price goes up every week, so it’s hard to see it rot without being able to do anything about it.”

A meal like this is all most people can hope for — and even that doesn’t come without sacrifice.

(Provided)The photographer’s meal when she couldn’t buy groceries during the blackout: an egg, rice, and ketchup.

The same woman also shared an image of one of her meals during the blackouts: a fried egg, rice, and ketchup.

Without power, she could not take public transport to the supermarket to buy anything else.

“This is not a dignified lunch, and other people eat even less than this,” she told INSIDER.

With food prices skyrocketing, many Venezuelans can’t afford to buy the hearty meals they were used to, she continued.

“But it gets to a point where you have to decide between buying eggs or toilet paper,” she said.

“Because you can’t do both or your entire salary for the month is gone.”

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