India has begun work to designate as dead at least 79 people who went missing in floods unleashed by a Himalayan glacial lake outburst two weeks ago, a senior official said on Friday, taking the death toll in the disaster to 179.
The floods triggered by torrential rain and overflow from the Lhonak Lake were among the region’s worst in more than 50 years, washing away homes and bridges in the northeastern state of Sikkim, wedged between Bhutan, China and Nepal.
The state government has begun the process for such a designation of those still missing, by seeking the federal government’s permission, since the law specifies an interval of seven years before a missing person can be declared dead.
“We have not called off the rescue efforts, but after two weeks it will be a miracle (to find them),” said state official Anil Rai.
Sikkim retrieved at least 40 bodies in the flood aftermath and the neighbouring state of West Bengal 60, said officials from the two states who are working to reconcile the official toll and eliminate double counting.
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As climate change warms high mountain regions, many communities face the risk of dangerous glacial lake outburst floods (GLOFs).
Lakes holding water from melted glaciers can brim over and burst, sending torrents rushing down mountain valleys.
More than 200 such lakes now pose a high hazard to Himalayan communities in Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan, research in 2022 showed.
The Himalayas, or Himalaya is a mountain range in Asia, separating the plains of the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau.
The range has some of the Earth’s highest peaks, including the highest, Mount Everest; more than 100 peaks exceeding elevations of 7,200 m (23,600 ft) above sea level lie in the Himalayas.
The Himalayas abut or cross five countries: Nepal, China, Pakistan, Bhutan and India. The sovereignty of the range in the Kashmir region is disputed among India, Pakistan, and China.
The Himalayan range is bordered on the northwest by the Karakoram and Hindu Kush ranges, on the north by the Tibetan Plateau, and on the south by the Indo-Gangetic Plain.
Some of the world’s major rivers, the Indus, the Ganges, and the Tsangpo–Brahmaputra, rise in the vicinity of the Himalayas, and their combined drainage basin is home to some 600 million people; 53 million people live in the Himalayas.
The Himalayas have profoundly shaped the cultures of South Asia and Tibet.