Toilet Paper Shortage: Why Is Venezuela Running Out?

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 16, 2013 9:28 PM EDT

Toilet paper
Venezuelans are coping with a toilet paper shortage. The government plans to import 50 million rolls to keep up with demand. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Venezuelans have weathered shortages of medicine, milk and sugar, but a recent toilet paper shortage may be the most unpleasant thing imaginable.

The government plans to import millions of rolls of toilet paper, but for Venezuelans, that can't come soon enough.

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"Even at my age, I've never seen this," said Maria Rojas, 70, who had been looking for toilet paper for two weeks. She eventually found some in a supermarket in the nation's capital, Caracas.

On Wednesday, the Associated Press visited a supermarket in Caracas and found it out of toilet paper. When another supermarket received a shipment, shoppers quickly filled the store. 

"I've been looking for it for two weeks," said Cristina Ramos. "I was told that they had some here and now I'm in line."

Economists say that Venezuela's consumer products shortages stem from government-set price controls, which are meant to make basic goods available to the poor, and from the socialist government's foreign currency controls, which makes it hard for Venezuelan companies to import raw materials. 

"State-controlled prices-prices that are set below market-clearing price-always result in shortages," said Steve Hanke, a Johns Hopkins professor. "The shortage problem will only get worse, as it did over the years in the Soviet Union." 

But according to Venezuelan Minister of Commerce Alejandro Fleming, "There is no deficiency in production, but an excessive demand generating purchases by a nervous population because of a media campaign that has been created to undermine the country."

Fleming said that toilet paper consumption was normally 125 million rolls a month, but that current demand "leads us to think that 40 million more are required."

"We will bring in 50 million to show those groups that they won't make us bow down," Fleming said.

Last month, Venezuela's scarcity index rose to 21 percent, according to Venezuela's Central Bank. That means that out of 100 goods, 21 are unavailable. This is the highest the index has been since 2009, when the bank started tracking goods.

"Right now I have to go to five or six supermarkets to buy everything I need," one shopper told the BBC.

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