Volunteers still very much in need

Areas hit by the 3/11 disasters are suffering from a shortage of volunteer workers. Reconstruction is entering a critical phase and the whole nation must make an effort to lend a helping hand so that those whose lives have been upended by the disasters do not feel that they have been forgotten.

According to the Japan National Council of Social Welfare, a total of 930,000 volunteer workers went to Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures from just after March 11, 2011, to late February 2012. After hitting a peak of 171,800 in May 2011, the number of volunteer workers in the three prefectures fell to between 120,000 and 130,000 in June and July, then dropped to less than 100,000 in August, 62,500 in September, 50,000 in October and 37,600 in November. In January 2012, around 11,000 volunteer workers were still active and similar figures are expected for February.

Immediately after the disasters, volunteers workers primarily engaged in debris removal, preparation of food such as rice balls, which are easy to distribute to disaster victims, and categorization of donated relief supplies. Since that time, assignments for volunteer workers have become much more diverse. They are now carrying out such tasks as helping to make life more comfortable for those living in temporary housing, checking up on the health condition of elderly victims- especially those living alone — helping out with shopping and crime prevention.

In an encouraging move, Uniqlo Co., a major clothing retail chain, announced on Feb. 28 that it will donate ¥300 million to five organizations helping Tohoku disaster victims over the next three years. Uniqlo President and CEO Tadashi Yanai rightly said, “While infrastructure construction is talked about, reconstruction of sufferers’ lives has yet to be done. We would like to help them lead normal and comfortable lives and would also like to offer job opportunities.”

As many victims have moved from evacuation shelters to fabricated houses and houses rented by municipal governments, it has become difficult for municipal governments and support organizations to monitor the situation of individual evacuees. It is feared that elderly victims who are living alone may die alone. Even listening to victims’ complaints and worries and conveying them to experts is of great help. In short, there are many areas where volunteer workers can still make meaningful contributions. Those who are able to volunteer are strongly encouraged to do so.