By Catherine Makino
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Pregnant women and mothers of young babies in Japan are getting mixed signals about how far away they should be from the nuclear-power-plant disaster. With the government's evacuation advice considered lax, volunteers are stepping in.
Women who have just delivered babies are included in the evacuation since the hospital released them early to make way for the people injured in the disaster.
The group made a deal with the city of Yuzawa in Nigata prefecture to provide rooms for the women, children and infants in a nationally famous ski and snowboarding resort. Nestled in the Japanese Alps, it is about 77 minutes by bullet train from Tokyo. The town is closed to tourists until further notice because of a lack of electricity and gas but Waseda Shotenkai's evacuees will be allowed in.
Other nongovernment groups are working with Waseda Shotenkai and the government has also set up a special division to assist these groups.
Yasui says that besides the radiation levels, the situation in the refugee shelters in the Fukushima, Miyaki and Ibaraki prefectures is severe and getting worse every day, especially for pregnant women and children. More than 161,000 are in shelters, according to the National Police Agency.
There is not enough milk, hot water, diapers and other much-needed daily necessities. Some people are suffering from dehydration, malnutrition and infectious diseases, which are now beginning to spread. There is also stress and fatigue, particularly among mothers.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said on Friday that the government does not plan to extend the evacuation zone beyond 12.5 miles. He said the government would monitor prolonged unsafe levels of radiation that would pose a health risk.
"We will continue to monitor the radiation in the air and make all preparations so that when the need arises, we will be able to deal with it without delay, which is where we are now," he said at a news conference.
The Fukushima plant has been leaking high levels of radiation since an earthquake and subsequent devastating tsunami stuck Japan on March 11. More than 27,973 are dead or missing and hundreds of thousands have been left homeless.
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Catherine Makino is president of Majirox News. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Time, the Japan Times, The Asian Wall Street Journal and Inter Press Service.
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