Hundreds of thousands of people sheltered in relief camps in flood-hit Bihar are being persuaded to stay in the temporary shelters till Oct 15 although the Kosi river, which changed its course and wreaked havoc in the state, has begun to recede, an official said on Thursday.
"We have been requesting people to stay in the relief camps at safe places for at least another month since many villages are still under water," Disaster Management Minister Nitish Mishra told IANS.
Misra said the receding water level has prompted thousands of people to return to their villages since they are afraid their belongings might be stolen.
"It is disturbing that some people have started returning to their marooned houses," he said.
Mishra cautioned that the drop in water levels was likely to be temporary, with the Kosi likely to hit its peak flow towards the end of the monsoon season by October.
"The flood is not over as the nature of the Kosi river is unexpected," he said.
Nearly three million people were rendered homeless when the rain-swollen and silt-laden Kosi burst its banks three weeks ago and swamped hundreds of villages.
About 971,000 people have been evacuated to safer places till date. Around 279,000 people have taken shelter in over 300 relief camps in flood-affected areas, officials said.
Earlier, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar visited relief camps in flood-affected areas and appealed to the people to not leave till the second week of October.
Pratayay Amrit, additional commissioner of the disaster management department, said that returning to villages at this point was not safe since people could be trapped again by flash floods.
"The flood situation seems to be improving, with the water receding since the past five days," an official of the water resources department said.
The floods have claimed at least 50 lives, according to official estimates. However, voluntary agencies fear the number could be in thousands once all bodies are recovered.
Over 2.7 million people and nearly one million cattle have been affected by the floods caused by the change in course of the Kosi river following a breach in an embankment upstream in Nepal. About 100,000 hectares of farmland have been submerged and nearly 300,000 houses damaged.