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article imageForest fires rage as India resort town grapples with water crisis

By AFP     Jun 1, 2018 in Environment

Helicopters doused forest fires raging near the drought-stricken Indian resort of Shimla on Friday as more police were deployed to guard water tankers in the historic Himalayan town.

Shimla's water shortage has been worsening for years but reached crisis point when supplies ran out last month, just as the population of 175,000 started growing by up to 100,000 for the summer season.

The former British colonial summer capital is normally packed with visitors as temperatures in the rest of India rise to 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) and above, and it is also an escape for many Indian tycoons and celebrities.

Foreign tourists have started cancelling reservations, officials said, while a court has ordered authorities to stop supplying water to hotels that have not paid their bills.

Emergency services are also battling forest fires in the hills around Shimla which have killed at least four people and left a black cloud of smoke over the region.

One inferno at Theog is just 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the hillside getaway in Himachal Pradesh state.

Residents -- who now spend several hours a day queuing at water trucks that are escorted through the streets by police -- have made social media pleas for tourists to stay away.

Authorities increased the number of officers guarding the tankers on Friday after angry protesters blocked roads.

The town normally needs more than 40 million litres of water a day, but barely half that amount is being delivered in emergency supplies.

Travel agents said bookings for June had dried up. Usually there are hundreds of foreigners in Shimla, with a peak when monsoon season hits India from late June.

"As news spreads about the water problem there is naturally concern among foreign tourists who normally visit Shimla in large numbers," Nitin Chauhan, a travel agent dealing mostly with the foreign market, told AFP.

Shimla has called off its international summer cultural festival which was due to start Friday because of the water shortages. Construction has also been halted.

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