Peru declares state of emergency due to record-breaking cold spell

Peru President Alan Garcia enacted a legislative decree to declare a 60-day state of emergency in 11 of Peru’s 24 departments Thursday as temperatures in the Andes region continue to drop dramatically and claim the lives of residents.

As Peru remains in the grip of intense cold — meteorologists have registered temperatures dipping to -22°C, or 7.60 F — the cold weather death toll continues to rise. Sixty-one children have died since April 13.

And, according to Peru’s Health Ministry, more than 50,000 suffer from acute respiratory tract infections and 4,851 from pneumonia.

“Those who are most at risk live in the high Andean regions (3.000 metres or more above sea level) where, since April 15, we have registered the pneumonia-related deaths of 61 children,” Cergio Espejo, a Health Ministry staff responsible for the monitoring of respiratory diseases, told daily Peru21.

The decree, published this morning in the official state daily El Peruano, enacts the President’s call for immediate action in the departments of Apurimac, Arequipa, Ayacucho, Cusco, Huancavelica, Junín, Lima, Moquegua, Pasco, Puno and Tacna.

But for some, the help is long overdue.

Puno’s Regional Council asked the government to declare a state of emergency last May after being hit with a snowstorm, frost and intensely cold weather.

And the Council, who gave its school directors the authority to modify school hours to avoid exposing children to the harsh weather during the coldest hours of the day, is still waiting for emergency funds promised by Peru’s Health Ministry to pay for medicine, clothing, medical personnel and equipment.

But according to experts from the Health Ministry, recent deaths are not exclusively cold-related.

Though viral microorganisms tend to propagate in cold weather, argued Rosa Vilca Bengoa, a Health Ministry representative, they aren’t the cause of illness; people’s bad winter habits are.

“Pollution, second-hand smoke, malnutrition and not breastfeeding children affect the outcome of these cases. And people don’t know how to treat these infections; they don’t go to health centers because they don’t know what is making them sick. And when they do go to the health centre, sometimes it’s already too late for the patient,” she told daily newspaper La Primer.

So far, more than 92,000 hectares of land have been affected by frost, crops have failed, livestock perished, and hundreds more may become infected with respiratory diseases as Peru’s winter is due to end only in September.

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