During the Golden Week holidays from April 28 to May 8, a total of some 78,000 volunteers worked in Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, which were devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to “disaster volunteer centers” set up by local governments in the prefectures.

On and after May 9, however, that number dropped sharply. On a peak day, there were some 11,000 volunteers, but by May 8 the number had plummeted to some 5,000.

Two months after the disasters, more and more helping hands are needed to remove debris, help evacuees move to temporary housing and give health, hygienic, psychiatric and other care to nearly 115,000 people still living in temporary shelters.

Construction has either started or is about to start on 9,660 temporary houses in Iwate, 11,309 in Miyagi and 9,264 in Fukushima. People are expected to begin moving into these houses next month.

In Fukushima, people who were evacuated from areas around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant are already moving into temporary housing in large numbers. Among them are elderly people who need help in moving.

It is feared that the decreasing number of volunteers will lead to a reduction in the number of staffers at disaster volunteer centers that dispatch volunteers to help people.

There is also the fear that the knowhow for doing volunteer work that has accumulated over the past two months may not be passed on to new volunteers. The central and local governments, enterprises and universities must cooperate in maintaining a steady flow of volunteers to the devastated areas.

The education ministry has urged universities to give credit to students who do volunteer work. Enterprises that can afford to do so should encourage workers to serve as volunteers by giving them special paid holidays.

In the 1995 Kobe earthquake, some 600,000 volunteers came and worked in the first month. Only 190,000 volunteers came to Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefecture by the end of April. Greater efforts are needed to increase the number of volunteers.

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