Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Peruvian Winter Killing Peasants

In New York it's just a nuisance. The weather is real cold. Heating bills are up. Walking in the street is a drag. In Peru, it is life threatening to villagers who live 2 1/2 miles above sea level. The Guardian reports as follows on the bitter cold winter being endured by villagers in the Peruvian Andes.

"There have been warnings from meteorologists in Peru that this month will see the Huancavelica region hit by the worst weather conditions in years with plunging temperatures, floods and high winds. The weather is already claiming lives; last month seven people died and scores were treated in hospital after torrential rain caused flash flooding in Ayacucho, the capital of the neighbouring region.

The cold is tipping Pichccahuasi into a spiralling decline brought on by pneumonia, bronchitis and hunger.

Although designed to withstand the cold, Huamani's house is crumbling and his roof, half-collapsed from the snowstorms that battered the village last June and July, offers scant protection from the freezing wind and rain.

His family, including four young children, sleep on wet ground night after night. His children have not yet recovered from illnesses from this year's winter and he is terrified that they won't be resilient enough to endure further freezing weather."

The houses that are traditionally built are not equal to the weather that is lashing the Huancavelica region. Hundreds of children are dying, and the alpaca (llama like animal) population is hard hit as well. This is a tough economic and psychological blow to the people in the Andean mountains, who rely in good part upon their alpaca herds for sustenance.

The plight of the freezing and dying villagers is being cited as a casualty of climate change. Whether or not it is indeed climate change, the human casualties are real. In Peru, the problems of indigenous peoples tend to get low priority. Most of the time, this simply means benign neglect. In the case of the current weather, the neglect is lethal.

There is a message of faith that a human life is more than simply a profit loss statement. There is housing that is durable and deigned to withstand high altitudes and severe weather conditions. The US military is undoubtedly trained in erecting such housing, as are the armed forces of quite a few other countries. Missionaries have a presence in the Andean region, as well as personnel who speak Quechua, which is the lingua franca in the region that is currently in crisis. All the ingredients are there to deliver relief to Peru's threatened villagers. What is needed additionally is the will and the resolve.

America has been involved in South America when drug interdiction proves to be a pressing need in assuring the quality of life in America's cities. The precedent is there for America to extend humanitarian aid. We need to intervene in the short term crisis as well as to create a long term economic relationship that will raise the standard of living for Peru's Indian population. There is no reason other than apathy why these people need to die. Their plight is a living reminder that even in our tough economic times is a material poverty far greater than we can imagine. Is anyone out there doing something? How can we help? We demand better i pods and new fashions every season. Let's demand relief for these freezing people in the Peruvian Andes.Life is more than a profit loss statement. The tears of bereaved parents are the same colour the world over. And those tears must stop.


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