A state of emergency was declared across southern Peru in late August as freezing weather affected tens of thousands of people living in some of the country’s poorest regions.

Highland communities faced heavy snow and the lowest temperatures experienced for years. Six people died and thousands more suffered health problems. The Puno region has recorded over 17,000 cases of acute respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, already in 2013. Children and the elderly are most at risk. Tens of thousands of livestock animals have been killed by the extreme cold, which has also left crops ruined.

Oxfam’s country coordinator, Frank Boeren, linked the freeze to climate change: “The people at these high altitudes say that year after year the climate impacts are becoming stronger. The climate is more extreme and unpredictable.”

The Peruvian highlands are experiencing less rainfall and higher temperatures compared to a few decades ago. Water scarcity is pushing communities to move their livestock to higher altitude pastures, which face a greater risk of extreme cold.

The ten regions affected were Puno, Huancavelica, Cusco, Junín, Arequipa, Tacna, Moquegua, Ayacucho and Pasco.

The Ministry of Agriculture pledged US$7.1 million for emergency medical and farming supplies, as well as insurance for smallholder farmers. However Oxfam has said there remains a need for greater regional and local budgeting for disaster risk reduction.