By Elke Weesjes
As Nepal tries to cope with the immediate effects of two devastating earthquakes, the looming monsoon rains threatens to deal a fresh blow to the already battered nation.
Monsoon rains in Central Nepal—which typically begin mid-June and last through mid-September—often trigger floods and landslides. Such challenges mean that isolated villages in the disaster stricken region will be even harder, if not impossible, for trucks loaded with heavy relief supplies and construction materials to reach.
“We realize that many families won’t be able to rebuild their damaged or completely destroyed homes before the monsoon rains start in a few weeks,” Jennifer Poidatz, director of Catholic Relief Services’ humanitarian response team, told the Huffington Post. “We need to reach those families with training and materials to make monsoon-resilient shelters.”
The task at hand is significant. The Nepalese government has just announced that it needs a whopping one million tents to provide shelter to the victims of the earthquakes, which killed more than 8,500 people and displaced 2.8 million.
After the first earthquake on April 25, bureaucratic bottlenecks severely delayed the arrival and distribution of international relief supplies. Though aid organizations and the Nepalese government have tried to catch up since, there is still an enormous gap between the number of tents getting to devastated communities and actual need.
And now, with the monsoon encroaching, they are running out of time—especially in rural areas. Without adequate shelter for themselves and their crops, displaced farmers can’t return to their land and harvest potatoes and rice or plant wheat ahead of the monsoon.
“Beyond the needs of urban centers, people displaced from rural villages need to be able to return to their homes before the start of the planting season,” Kaha Imnadze, acting vice president of the United Nations General Assembly, said in a statement on May 15. “Failing to enable people to return to their respective villages to plant crops could have severe consequences for the country’s food security.”
Food supplies are running out and a food crisis is already around the corner. The disaster has destroyed livestock, crops, food stocks, and markets. The Nepalese Ministry of Agriculture Development has projected that the country will need more than 215,000 tons of food in the next three months. With pre-monsoon rains hampering delivery, getting food to those in need grows more difficult every day.
Food isn’t the only worry—fresh water could be hard to come by, too. Aside from cutting off remote areas receiving help, heavy rains might also contaminate drinking water supplies by washing human waste into the water sources.
To prevent the rise of diarrhea and other diseases, WaterAid has worked around the clock to deliver water purification tablets, emergency community water filters, and hygiene kits containing buckets, soap, cloths and sanitary napkins to the affected region. In addition, the non-profit organization has launched a series of radio broadcasts that urge residents to take extra precautions with water, personal hygiene, and toilet use.
“We know that we must act now to try and avoid a second disaster in the form of an outbreak such as cholera, “ Tom Palakudiyil, regional head of South Asia WaterAid, said in a statement.
Stanching an outbreak would be ideal, but at least some experts think it’s implausible. With monsoon rains looming, lack of adequate shelter and clean water will almost certainly lead to a public health crisis, they say.
“There will be outbreaks of cholera and other diseases,” Antti Rautavaara chief of water, sanitation and hygiene for UNICEF in Nepal, told the The New York Times. “It is a battle we cannot win. We can only try to minimize the pain and death.”