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Need milk, sugar or toilet paper? In Venezuela, there's an app for that

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new smartphone application helps Venezuelans track down scarce goods
  • Products listed include cooking oil, sugar, flour, powdered milk and toilet paper
  • The university student who developed the app says he's trying to help his country
  • The app is the latest method Venezuelans have turned to in the face of shortages

Maracaibo, Venezuela (CNN) -- It all started when Jose Augusto Montiel couldn't find any milk for his daily cafe con leche.

The 21-year-old Venezuelan student didn't have a solution for widespread goods shortages in his country. But he had an idea, using lessons he'd learned about developing apps for smart phones.

A month later, Abasteceme was born. The free mobile application's name is Spanish for "supply me." It allows users to enter data when they've spotted scarce goods on store shelves in the South American country.

See the Abasteceme app

Opening the app shows a list of products. With the flick of a finger, maps show places to purchase cooking oil, sugar, flour, powdered milk and toilet paper, in addition to how much the items cost.

"For example, with oil it tells me that there isn't any within one kilometer, but we can increase it to 100, and then it shows me that yes, there is oil," Montiel explained, pointing at his phone. "When I click, it tells me the price, the distance and the date, and if I click gain, I find the shortest route from my location."

Developing applications isn't a career path Montiel is planning to pursue. The university student plays violin in a symphony and is working on his chemical engineering thesis. He says he learned to develop apps when he was trying to find a way to buy a tablet computer.

And now, he says, he's just trying to do his part.

"The only thing I did was add a grain of sand with what I have," he said. "I think if we all put in a grain of sand and we give 100% of what we can give, we are going to have the country we want."

More than 14,000 people have downloaded the smart phone application so far.

Its development comes as Venezuelans deal with widely reported goods shortages.

Facing a toilet paper shortage last month, the country's government announced plans to import 50 million rolls to meet demand for the product.

Toilet paper is just one of the basic goods and foodstuffs that have been disappearing from store shelves over the past few months, as the government and private companies blame each other for the scarcity.

Businesses and the political opposition say government policies, including price controls on basic goods and tight restrictions on foreign currency, are to blame.

Last month, Venezuelan Minister of Commerce Alejandro Fleming blamed the media for provoking fear in consumers, who in turn begin hoarding items.

But Venezuelans say the shortages are very real.

Even as she beams about her son's success and describes how he developed the application, Igia de Montiel Uribarri said there's only so much a smartphone can do.

"Right now, again I don't have any milk, and I said to him, 'Have you seen them say where there's milk?' He says, 'No, mommy, I haven't seen that.' That is to say, nothing has changed. This is not a cure. It only eases the situation," she says. "It gives you some help."

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CNN's Mariano Castillo and Catherine E. Shoichet contributed to this report.

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