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Impending Monsoon Season Creates Dire Situation for Nepal's Post-Earthquake Tent Cities

In Kathmandu, Nepal, and surrounding areas still reeling from the devastating earthquakes and aftershocks that claimed more than 8,000 lives, monsoon season has citizens and relief workers rushing to provide proper shelter before torrential rains slow efforts by nearly 50 percent.

Formally kicking off in mid-June, monsoon season brings the threat of heavy thunderstorms, flooding and strong winds at times.

In Kathmandu, the wettest period stretches from the end of June to the beginning of September, a nearly three-month chunk of the year where storms bring unsafe conditions to those without a proper form of shelter.

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal's capital on April 25, destroying infrastructure across the city and surrounding areas. Mere weeks later, a 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit 47 miles east of Kathmandu, but effects were still felt in the already pillaged city.

The second quake hit rural parts of the Himalayan foothills the hardest, an area more susceptible to flooding and mudslides during the grips of monsoon season.

"The heavy nature of this rainfall leads to an elevated risk for flooding and mudslides, which will only be even higher this year due to the earthquake which weakened the mountain terrain," AccuWeather Meteorologist Eric Leister said. "The earthquakes loosened the soil and that makes it more suspect to collapsing when heavy rain adds extra strain to both below and above the surface."

ShelterBox Response Team Member Tim Osburn, who recently returned from a relief trip to Nepal, said the impending monsoon season has the country and aid workers rushing.

For the mountain villages and surrounding towns that still exist, the damage is extensive. Given the rural nature, aid workers have an arduous journey to get to areas where the damage was most severe.

As of May 25, up to 315,000 people in the most affected areas are still inaccessible by road while another 75,000 cannot be reached even by air, according to the United Nations' Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Elite climbers have been called upon to hand-deliver supplies to those who have no other way of receiving necessary aid.

When the monsoon-fueled storms deliver torrential rainfall, trips to the outlying areas will become increasingly difficult.

Osborn estimated that relief efforts will slow by 50 percent as heavy rains will trigger mudslides and continue to cut access to the remote towns.

"The ground is cracked, opened up," Osburn said.

During monsoon season, up to 80 percent of the yearly average rain will fall. With this year expected to align with average rainfall totals, Kathmandu could receive more than 40 inches of rain in less than four months.

Osburn said the fear of another earthquake striking without warning combined with the enhanced risks of monsoon season has raised additional concerns for Nepal residents.

"It's all about now," he said. "There will be landslides, there will be roads taken out, there will be injuries and lives lost."

In some cases, he said villages sitting in higher elevations could see a landslide start a mere half mile up the terrain. At that point, there's nothing else to do.

"They've spent a lot of time and energy getting temporary shelters up," Osburn said. "But when standing up to a monsoonal rain, you could see the work going right down a hill after one of those."

While the building process continues for more permanent structure, many are still in tents or other forms of temporary shelters.

Osburn described a scene of "structures cobbled together with tarps placed upon them."

People are still living in makeshift shelters in villages across Nepal. (Photo/Tim Osburn)

ShelterBox has provided emergency shelter to more than 15,000 people in Nepal. The tents ShelterBox provides are designed to withstand winds up to 70 mph and stay dry in 6 inches of standing water.

"Although temporary shelter materials are sufficient as a short-term solution, it is imperative to get families into permanent housing as soon as possible," Habitat for Humanity International Communications Officer Angeli Alba said.

However, shelter is just one of many concerns.

"Respiratory infections, hypothermia and other illnesses have increased levels of risk when there is not adequate shelter to protect families," Alba said. "There are worries that those most vulnerable, particularly children, the differently abled and the elderly, will not be able to withstand the monsoons and the difficult conditions that will accompany them."