Shelter for nuclear disaster evacuees to charge for meals
Evacuees are upset with the town's decision. -Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN
SAITAMA - The government of disaster-hit Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, has decided to start charging as of Sept. 1 for bento meals that are currently free for evacuees from the town, at the last remaining shelter in Kazo, Saitama Prefecture.
The town government explained its decision as a way to "strike a balance between these Futaba evacuees and others who have already left shelters to live on their own." However, the announcement has stirred protests from most of the residents at the shelter, which is located in the defunct prefectural Kisai High School.
The shelter was opened after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. l nuclear power plant in March last year for Futaba residents and municipal administrators. It is the only remaining publicly run shelter.
At the shelter, the free meals are provided three times a day for about 210 people living in classrooms or the gymnasium of the former school building.
The Futaba government has been offering the free meals in compliance with the Disaster Relief Law. However, it elected to start charging because a majority of the 7,000 Futaba evacuees are now living in temporary housing units or government-leased homes around the country, and are paying for their own meals.
The town government said it took into account the complaints from Futaba evacuees living on their own, who said those at the shelter were getting special treatment.
Hiromi Takeuchi, the administration division chief of the Futaba town government, stressed the change is necessary to unite the townspeople and encourage them to move on from the disaster.
Starting Sept. 1, a bento vendor in Kazo will visit the shelter every day to sell three meals for a total of 1,110 yen (S$17.60).
However, evacuees are upset with the town's decision.
Mieko Watanabe, 64, who is staying at the shelter while nursing her 92-year-old mother, said she cannot understand why the town is ending the service when people like her have no choice but to rely on the free food, as they have not received disaster-related compensation and have no place to go.
"Even if it's inevitable to start charging for the meals, we can't buy them every day. I want the town to set up a cooking facility here at least," Watanabe said.
On Tuesday evening, about 70 evacuees gathered to exchange opinions. According to one of the participants, most of them were against the change.
Meanwhile, Mitsuo Horikawa, 56, who heads a residents association at the shelter, showed understanding for the town's decision.
"It's not desirable to be continuously dependent on the shelter, which will close when there's a move to return municipal functions to Fukushima Prefecture and build a temporary town," Horikawa said. "The paid service is inevitable to ensure fairness among us and other evacuees, and to encourage people to strive for self-support.
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