Peru Ready for Unexpected Cold Snap

A nationwide plan to cope with sudden low temperatures in 2017 is meant to get ahead of the needs and demands of populations in the Andean highlands and the jungles.
Gonzalo Silva Infante/Diálogo | 21 June 2017

Rapid Response

Peruvian Army service members are charged with transferring aid brought in by the government to the nearly 300 districts included in the 2017 Multi-Sector Freezing and Cold Weather Plan. (Photo: Peruvian Ministry of Defense)

In Peru, “friaje” is a weather phenomenon that involves a combination of unseasonable low temperatures, frost, snow, and hail, accompanied by strong winds. Each year, in winter — which runs from May to August — the country suffers from the effects of these low temperatures, which can drop to -10° Celsius, causing respiratory illnesses and even death.

Faced with this climatic phenomenon, the government each year develops a prevention plan to mitigate the effects through multisector actions that include food, shelter, housing, productive development, health, education, transportation, and electrification. This year, aid is being extended to 242 districts in 16 regions across Peru.

The innovation in the 2017 plan for coping with the climate effects has to do with the inclusion of the Ministry of Defense(MINDEF, per its Spanish acronym), through the Armed Forces of Peru, in preventive operations, when previously they played only a responsive role. That’s why the National Emergency Operations Center(COEN, per its Spanish acronym), is in charge of conducting these operations.

“The ‘2017 Multi-Sector Plan for Frost and Friaje’ was developed on February 16th by the Presidential Council of Ministers, with data from the National Center for Disaster Prevention, which sets risk indicators, and with technical information from the National Meteorological and Hydrology Service, to identify the sectors affected,” Brigadier General Jorge Chávez Cresta, a spokesperson for COEN, explained to Diálogo.

“We would like to keep our work from being an improvised operation. That’s why it was stated that the Armed Forces should take part, and be immersed in the preventive planning, so they will be better prepared for the response effort,” Brig. Gen. Chávez said.

Until now, MINDEF had not been included but based on the successful experience the Armed Forces had during the disasters caused by the Coastal El Niño phenomenon, the ministry has been added to the plan. The objective is to reduce the mortality rate to zero. Last year, it claimed the lives of 69 victims.

“During Coastal El Niño, the military's participation was quite helpful to us. We have gained a lot of experience on how to assist and work with the authorities so they can do a more productive and efficient job, and also on how we can work with the people themselves, integrating ourselves into the process more,” confirmed Colonel Miguel Jiménez Montenegro, head of the Department of Government Support for the 2nd Division of the Peruvian Army.

Minister of Defense Jorge Nieto arrived in the district of Tarata (Tacna) to conduct a civil operation delivering basic necessities for coping with the freezes and cold weather. (Photo: Peruvian Ministry of Defense)

Aspects of the work

Armed Forces participation adheres to the three main functions related to strategic planning and deployment. “We have to have helicopters located in strategic regions so that we can assist with evacuations and provide other aid if the temperature drops even lower,” Brig. Gen. Chávez explained. For now, these aircraft have been made available in the regions of Arequipa, Cusco, Puno, and Tacna, where the freezes occur, and in Ucayali and Madre de Dios, where the “friajes” have happened.

Secondly, personnel is sought for the potential emergency areas, so the response can be immediate. Through their brigades and their Navy and Air Force units, they must deploy military personnel to the various locations where there is a possibility that the temperature might fall into an emergency range, which could impact the population.

“These sectors are going to provide their communication systems so that everyone has a standardized arrangement. Also, they are providing us reports on their vehicles so we know which ones each area has. That way, when a helicopter cannot enter a zone where the temperature has fallen dramatically, we have ambulances and military vehicles at those locations so we can proceed with the evacuation,” Brig. Gen. Chávez said.

Finally, the Ministry of Housing, through the Tambos National Program, will be in charge of storing and distributing the aid. “Tambos” are facilities that serve as headquarters for providing support and distributing aid. They are staffed with doctors, nurses, police, and military service members. They maintain communication through an information system that is unique to these facilities, as all of them have internet access. The government has built nearly 280 tambos across the nation, of which 69 have been chosen for this area.

Vocation and professionalism

“Our duty in these emergency procedures has not only been as manual labor but has also stemmed from our professional role having a specialization in land, sea, and air operations to save lives. That is what we have done. That is our job, and it always will be,” Brig. Gen. Chávez noted. “We don't want to end up as worker bees. Quite the opposite, we want to show that we are the Armed Forces of Peru, a modern and professional military that is here to assist you when you need us, and in a very special way, in this case, during disasters.”

“We feel comfortable, happy, and useful not so much from the admiration we get but because we are indispensable for the Peruvian people. And more importantly, we are now, and when the time comes, we will be, supporting the people — wherever they may be — through our service vocation, which is what each person who enters the Armed Forces of Peru has,” Col. Jiménez said.

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