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The government is planning to launch training programs to help people volunteering in disaster-hit areas acquire skills for supporting affected residents, including evacuees at shelters.

It will be the first time for the government to nurture such disaster volunteers. The programs are aimed at fostering personnel with a certain level of knowledge and experience needed for the management of shelters and other support activities for people afflicted by disasters, in order to improve their living environment and prevent deaths resulting from causes indirectly related to natural disasters.

Currently, disaster volunteers dispatched via social welfare councils across Japan engage mainly in removing sediment and damaged furniture in afflicted areas. These volunteers are not usually involved in the management of shelters, such as securing meals, toilets and beds for users, and offering special care to older evacuees, because such work requires experience and skills.

The Cabinet Office plans to set up a committee by the end of the current fiscal year through March 2022, comprising experts and others, that will hold discussions on specifics of the volunteer training programs.

The programs will be for nurturing "leaders," who will stay at shelters for a certain period and help with the management of the facilities, "advisers," in charge of visiting multiple shelters and giving advice and instructions to operators and evacuees, and "coordinators," to be tasked with liaising between medical and welfare experts, local government officials in charge and others.

In fiscal 2022, model training programs will likely be conducted in some prefectures of the country.

The government hopes that the volunteer training programs will also help local communities boost their disaster response capabilities.

It is planning to set up a certification system for people who complete the training programs, as a tool to motivate participants, while considering creating a registration system in the future that allows local authorities in disaster-hit regions to ask others for the dispatch of volunteers in times of large-scale disasters affecting wide areas.

The death toll in the strong earthquakes that hit Kumamoto Prefecture in April 2016 totaled some 270. About 80% of them died due to indirect causes, such as mental or physical disorders due to living at shelters or in vehicles.

The government expects that the planned volunteer training programs will also alleviate burdens on local governments that would be extremely busy with numerous tasks when a disaster strikes, such as assessing damage and issuing disaster victim certificates.

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