Snowstorms and intense cold threatens population in Peru’s Andes mountains

The cold weather death toll continues to rise in Peru’s southern highlands after a snowstorm hit the Puno region and led to the death Wednesday of a 9 month-old baby. The meteorological phenomenon, which was widely reported in Peru’s newspapers Thursday morning, left up to 6 cm, or 2.36 inches of snow, in some areas.

Several weeks of severe cold weather – meteorologists have registered temperatures below -22°C or 7.60 F in Masocruz – have already claimed the lives of 24 children.

And more than 49,000 others suffer from acute respiratory tract infections and 433 from pneumonia, said Percy Zela Campos, Puno’s regional health director.

In Puno’s impoverished province of San Román alone, 15 deaths, 13.207 cases of acute respiratory tract infections and 195 cases of pneumonia have so far been registered.

In May, when Puno’s Regional Council asked the government to declare a state of emergency in the region, school directors were given the authority to modify school hours to avoid exposing children, who must often walk long distances to attend class, to the harsh weather during the coldest hours of the day.

But, Campos still awaits the promised 324,000 soles, or about $115,000, from Peru’s Health Ministry to buy more medicine and clothing for the local population, as well as to pay for medical personnel and equipment.

More than 92,000 hectares of land have been affected by frost, farm animals are dying, depriving local farmers of an important source of income and nutrition.

“Most families who raise alpacas in high Andean areas don’t have sufficient forage stored for their animals. And if their animals eat grass, they could suffer from enterotoxaemia and die if they are not treated with antibiotics,” said Hernán Saavedra, the regional director of Peru’s National Meteorology and Hydrology Institute or Senamhi.

According to Senamhi, snow-falls and 30 kilometer or 19 mile per hour winds are to continue until Friday, especially in the higher areas, and the cold weather could affect up to 6 million Peruvians by the end of the winter.

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