Volunteer work in central Japan has been stalling over a month since the Noto Peninsula was hit by a 7.6-magnitude earthquake, with few people permitted to assist each day amid insufficient accommodation facilities and poor road conditions.
While approximately 23,000 people have registered to volunteer in Ishikawa Prefecture, only around 250 are currently permitted to help in the hardest-hit northern region of the peninsula each day, according to the local government.
The New Year's Day earthquake on the Sea of Japan coast claimed over 240 lives, sparked fires and left a trail of destruction in its wake.
Wajima in Ishikawa began accepting volunteers on Saturday, with about 40 of them entering the city and clearing up rubble and debris, among other jobs.
"I wasn't able to do this alone, so it's helpful," said Koichi Tanaka, 60, who had water-damaged tatami mats carried out from an accommodation facility he runs.
But some who came to help noted the lack of volunteers in the area, with 47-year-old professional wrestler Kazutaka Hasegawa noting, "I have never heard of only 40 people allowed in on the first day. Reconstruction work will take a long time at this rate."
As of Saturday, eight municipalities in the region have solicited help from across the country. Registrations began on Jan. 6, but actual volunteer work started from Jan. 27.
While groups specializing in volunteer work were able to assist early on following the temblor, preparations for civilian volunteers have lagged behind.
Volunteer work is currently largely limited to day trips, with the prefecture shuttling people by bus from the capital city Kanazawa to designated areas, as water cuts make it difficult to stay overnight. Consequently, they are only able to assist about four hours per day.
"We are sending as many people as the municipalities require. They will struggle if we send more than the necessary number," an official from the prefecture said, asking people to refrain from individual volunteering to prevent confusion.
Limiting the scope of civilian volunteer work can not only lower the motivation of those coming to help but also make regions with limited assistance feel neglected, according to Takumi Miyamoto, associate professor at the Graduate School of Human Sciences in Osaka University who specializes in disaster volunteering.
"It will become necessary to have people come in to listen to what the victims need or have to say. There is a need to diversify means of soliciting help, such as municipalities asking for assistance themselves, in addition to the current registrations through the prefecture," he said.