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After killer floods, monsoons threaten other parts of India

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As India struggles to recover from devastating floods in Uttarakhand, other areas of the country are at risk as heavy monsoon rains inundate already burgeoning rivers, prompting authorities to evacuate tens of thousands of people, aid workers and government officials said.

Volunteers pack relief supplies to be sent to Uttarakhand, inside a temple in Ahmedabad July 6, 2013. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Floods, triggered by heavier than normal pre-monsoon rains in mid-June, left more than 580 people dead and swept away roads, bridges and buildings in Uttarakhand, a popular Hindu pilgrimage destination in the Himalayas. At least 3,000 people are still missing.

But while authorities and aid groups struggle to negotiate roads blocked by landslides to reach remote mountain villages where people have no food or other basic goods, Indians in the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh and the northeast region of Assam could also face a severe deluge.

“Heavy rains over the weekend have been hampering work in terms of aid distribution in Uttarakhand,” said Save the Children India’s Devendra Tak. “We are also monitoring the situation in Assam and Himachal Pradesh as there has been a lot of rain there. At the moment, it is less worrisome than Uttarakhand, but things can get bad at any time given the unpredictably of the monsoons.”

Government officials in the tea-growing region of Assam say incessant rains over the past week have caused the mighty Brahmaputra river and its tributaries to overflow in 11 of Assam’s 23 districts.

Scores of villages in the worst-affected district of Dhemji have been inundated and authorities have evacuated around 60,000 people living in low-lying areas to temporary shelters on higher ground as a precautionary measure.

“The flood situation is normal in Assam at the moment, but water levels in the rivers are rising,” Nilamoni Sen Deka, Assam’s agricultural minister told Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Himachal Pradesh state, aid workers say heavy rains lashed areas around the main city of Shimla over the weekend, causing landslides and pushing up the volume of water in rivers and dams. Authorities have issued an alert to people living along riverbanks to move to safer areas.

India experiences monsoons from June to September, vital for its agriculture. But the rains frequently affect millions of people, devastating crops and homes and sparking outbreaks of diseases such as diarrhoea and dysentery.

Experts say decades of mass deforestation in many flood-prone areas have led to soil erosion where sediment is washed downstream, ending up in rivers where it builds up on the river bed and raises the levels of water far higher than normal.

Poor management of water levels in dams has also led to huge volumes of water being released into rivers, said aid workers. Local populations also accuse officials of siphoning off funds meant for flood risk projects, resulting in shoddy repair and poor construction of embankments that are regularly breached.