54 children dead in Puno because of extreme cold front

Climate change continues to wreck havoc in Peru’s southern Altiplano, where the arrival of freezing temperatures since March — almost three months earlier than usual — have killed more than 237 children.

The extreme cold – which has brought snow, hail, low temperatures and strong winds – has claimed the lives of 237 children so far this year, more than recorded annually for the past four years. One-third of the deaths were registered in Puno, an important agricultural and livestock region located in southeastern Peru.

“The prolonged exposure to the cold is causing hypothermia, acute respiratory infections, pneumonia, and deaths, mainly among young children,” said Walter Britton, country director for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency Peru. “The greatest needs right now are for blankets and warm clothes, as the cold is really intense, especially at night.”

In Peru’s southern highlands, where poverty is widespread and there is a lack of doctors, health care facilities, medicine and, in some areas, deficient basic utilities such as electricity, children – often malnourished – are much more vulnerable to extreme cold temperatures and routinely die from exposure to cold weather during the winter months. Between June and August, temperatures often plummet below 0 degrees Celsius in the higher regions of the Andes, resulting in what many refer to as a cold weather ‘emergency’.

But, UNICEF officials are trying to correct this misnomer. According to Andres Franco, UNICEF’s Representative in Peru, the deadly cold snaps are predictable and the deaths preventable.

“Here we are – UNICEF – doing child survival right there; trying to make a contribution and to avoid it from happening. We even find ourselves trying not to call it an ‘emergency’ anymore, because how can it be an emergency when we know it happens every year?” said Franco.

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