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Extreme La Niña brings illness and misery to Peru by Chrystelle Barbier
Wednesday, August 25th 2010, 10:31 AM GMT
Co2sceptic (Site Admin)
Mass of polar air also hangs over Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and southern Brazil

Dionisia was waiting her turn in the crowded medical centre, her baby bundled up on her back with a manta, the traditional multicoloured Andean cloth. "My son has got a problem with his lungs," explained the young mother, who believes that it is due to the cold spell that has hit Lima.

Dionisia lives in Manchay to the east of the Peruvian capital, a sprawl of plywood houses with makeshift roofs of corrugated iron, plastic or cardboard that offer little protection from the winds that sweep over the hills.

For the first time in 40 years, temperatures in Lima fell to 8.8C at the end of July. Since then they have hovered around 13-15C. Houses are poorly insulated in Lima, and according to Percy Mosca of the Peruvian department of meteorology and hydrology, "the cold is made worse by the unusually strong winds in the region, as well as high humidity of more than 80% and sometimes even 95%".

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"It's so cold your bones ache," said Dionisia. The whole of Peru is having an unusual cold spell as a result of La Niña, a cyclical climatic phenomenon leading to a cooling of the Pacific Ocean. But the drop in temperatures is also due to a mass of cold air from the south pole, which has also affected Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and southern Brazil.

Unusually low temperatures of 10C have even reached the Amazonian forest, which is more used to recording figures of 20-30C.

The Peruvian government is particularly concerned about the extent and duration of this bout of cold weather, which has hit 13 regions, about half the country. "We have sent reinforcements to the medical centres and launched vaccination programmes, not only in the Andes where we do them every year, but in Amazonia as well," said Aquiles Vilchez, who is in charge of epidemiology at the ministry of health.

There has also been an increase in the number of cases of pneumonia. "However, the number of deaths due to such respiratory diseases is lower than last year," he stressed.

Vilchez believes this shows that past experience has helped the country deal with the cold spell. Nevertheless, 250 children aged under five have died in Peru from cold-related respiratory diseases, mostly pneumonia, since the beginning of the year. Of these 64 came from the high Andes region of Puno, where temperatures sometimes fall below -20C.

This article was first published in Le Monde
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