SAN CARLOS, Venezuela — The dire economic situation in Venezuela, combined with the effects of the pandemic lockdown, has led to a crisis more severe than the biblical plagues in Egypt, said one local bishop.

“The plagues of Egypt are nothing compared to what we are suffering here,” Bishop Polito Rodríguez Méndez of San Carlos, Venezuela told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in a recent interview.

He called for international aid to alleviate the crisis, which has hit the poorest of the poor especially hard.

Under the socialist administration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has been marred by violence and social upheaval, with severe shortages of food and medicine, high unemployment, power outages, and hyperinflation. Some 4.5 million Venezuelans have emigrated since 2015.

The coronavirus pandemic has now exacerbated a situation that was already at a crisis point, the bishop said.

With a paralyzed economy and GDP now below zero, he told ACN, “those most affected are the poorest of the poor - they have nothing to eat, they have no chance of living a decent life.”

Some 96% of households in Venezuela are living in poverty, according to studies.

“A family earns about three or four dollars a month. A carton of eggs costs two dollars and a kilo of cheese costs three dollars,” Bishop Rodríguez explained. “We’ve been under the lockdown for more than two months, and everything has become very expensive. It is impossible to go on like this.”

The bishop said the crisis in Venezuela is likely to worsen in the coming months, which will seriously affect the Church in the country, which is already lacking financial resources.

“Our churches have been closed for four months and the priests have nothing to eat,” he added.

Another big problem is the decrease in money sent back from abroad by the nearly 5 million Venezuelans who have emigrated.

“The other day, I met with a seminarian who was crying. His parents had been let go, they have nothing to live on and can’t send their son anything,” he said. “We’re living on God's providence.”

Due to the pandemic, the country's borders are closed to prevent the entry of migrants who have lost their jobs and are trying to return to Venezuela from Colombia, Peru, Chile or Argentina.

Additionally, a recent plague of worms has devastated plantations in the states of Cojedes, Portuguesa and Barinas, adding to the food insecurity in the region.

Bishop Rodríguez said he is asking God to give them the strength to help those who are in need and are facing a crisis that continues to grow.

“Despite personal limitations, we’re not going to abandon the people in this terrible situation we’re going through,” he said.

He also called for international support to aid the struggling nation.

“We don’t want outside intervention, especially armed intervention, but we have to ask for international humanitarian and health care aid because if not, we have no other alternative: either COVID kills us or hunger kills us.”