Effects of cold weather inspire innovative approach to relief in Peru

By Enrique Jair Guevara in Panama

Several communities in Peru are struggling to recover from the harsh effects of cold snap which have brought low temperatures, snowfall, hail and heavy rains. The severe weather caused a significant rise in cases of pneumonia, conjunctivitis and respiratory infections, affecting vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly and those already dealing with illness.

Authorities the winter had been the most intense in 10 years, drawing attention to the effects of climate change in the country. The cold is predicted to last until the third week of September, prompting the Peruvian government to declare a state of emergency in 106 districts of 23 provinces in the regions Puno, Cusco, Ayacucho and Apurimac.

Regional Health Directors of the Peruvian Ministry of Health were mobilized in the affected areas and continue to support health care needs. According to the Ministry of Health 21,578 cases of pneumonia have been reported among children under five, and hundreds of people have reported acute respiratory infections. To date, government figures suggest pneumonia deaths are 20 per cent higher than in 2012.

During the winter, the Ministry of Health distributed 500kg medicines, 10,000 blankets and mobilized brigades who were responsible for carrying out vaccinations in the areas most affected by frost, such as Puno, Apurimac and Cuzco. Further action is planned over the next few weeks.

The weather has also had an impact on farming, with an estimated 26,000 animals dead and a further 600,000 affected according to the Emergency Operations Centre of the National Civil Defence Institute. To support the recovery, the Peruvian government has provided 812 metric tons of relief goods for shelter, food, and household goods. Heavy machinery was also deployed in communities cut off by blocked roads to make relief deliveries possible.

“To support our response, the Peruvian Red Cross has requested the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) to implement protection activities focused on livelihoods for 1,000 families in the region of Puno,” said Peruvian Red Cross President María Josefina García Roca. Activities will complement work already underway with support from the German Red Cross and ECHO, which includes the provision of medical supplies, blankets, hygiene promotion and hygiene kits for 1,500 families.

The American Red Cross is assessing the potential of a cash transfer programme that will help communities re-establish their livelihoods and the Spanish Red Cross has mobilized a livelihoods technician to assess the impact of programmes on vulnerable communities.

IFRC Disaster Management Delegate for South America, Felipe del Cid, said any response to the cold weather had to be appropriate: “Our interventions must also be specially focused and closely coordinated with all who are involved.” This is especially the case in Peru, where this kind of approach is untried. “A clear example is the Peruvian’s Red Cross interest in activities such as food for animals and veterinary kits, and cash transfers, which are not commonplace interventions,” he said. “But this operation is showing us the need to adapt our work to address the most urgent needs.”

The Peruvian Red Cross’s intervention will focus on a priority target population of 1,000 families in the Puno Region. However, it is possible that if the situation worsens in other areas, that additional funding will be requested to cover the needs.