Climate Change: hail and freezing temperatures forecast for Puno and southern highlands

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 a dozen people.

The extreme cold has claimed the lives of 16 people so far in Puno, and 5,053 others are suffering from respiratory ailments, most of them children under 5, Elsa Paredes, of Puno’s Regional Health Institute, told Enlace Nacional.

Moderate hail storms are predicted over the next several days over a wide area of the southern department of Puno, according to Senamhi, the national weather bureau, and temperatures are expected to drop in June, July and August to as low as -27º C (-16º F) in areas that lie above 4,000m (13,000 ft). The cold is also affecting the departments of Cusco and Arequipa.

There are reports of alpacas and guanacos, which are not protected in barns or sheds, dying in the higher areas of the altiplano.

In Huancavelica, north of Puno and Cusco and one of the poorest departments in the southern highlands, 8,000 children are being inoculated against pneumonia by the Ministry of Health, in a program together with AmeriCare, the U.S.-based international disaster relief organization.

In Puno, rain has destroyed harvested potatoes and freezing temperatures as low as -13.5º C (8º F) have destroyed more than 50% of the quinoa crops, a staple food. Alipio Canahua, an agronomist and professor at the Universidad Nacional del Altiplano, told Radio RPP that quinoa prices will be higher this season because of the damage. Puno produces approximately 20,000 tons of quinoa.

Canahua believes, however, that “this problem could have been foreseen. In Puno, we permanently face emergencies because of cold temperatures and floods, but there are technological, genetic and traditional resources available to solve problems caused by the climate.”

Canahua mentioned quinoa varieties resistant to frost, drought or saline soil. “We also have the traditional knowledge of the campesinos, with which we can develop appropriate technology if the government provides investment.” One traditional technique for the flat altiplano is that of the waru waru or raised fields, a method that effectively protects crops from floods and frost damage. Although this technique fell into general disuse hundreds of years ago, there are a number of pilot projects to restore the system.

INDECI, the civil defense institute, has assigned S/. 21 million of a S/.50 mn contingency fund to finance emergency measures in Puno, while the soil and river basins conservation program, PRONAMACHCS, has already begun to build 2,500 sheds throughout Puno to protect the herds of camelids. The sheds are made of thick mud blocks and wood and tin roofs. The program includes a further 6,300 sheds for other parts of the central and southern highlands.

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