Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Photos a worry for disaster volunteers / Exhibition space lacking, battle against time to reunite goods with owners, kin"

From today's Daily Yomiuri Online:

Dressed in funeral attire, a woman at a temple in Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, opened the photo albums on display one after another, studiously looking at the images of family gatherings and children's school sports festivals.

The temple was hosting a photo-display service for bereaved family members of victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, just one example of how volunteers are trying to reunite photos and other items with their owners or kin.


Volunteers and local governments in devastated areas have faced difficulties working out how to treat unclaimed photographs and other items.

The volunteers collect photos on behalf of local governments, which are too busy managing shelters and confirming residents' safety. They then clean the photos, removing sea water and mud, but in many cases, they cannot find the owners. It has also become increasingly difficult to secure space to display photos.

Some volunteers have begun attempts to display items in unusual areas--such as the temple in Rikuzen-Takata--and make image databases so that people do not need to be physically present to view the photos.


Before using the temple, the group had exhibited items in a hard-to-reach mountain area, which slowed the the return of photos to their owners. Thus the organization decided to exhibit photos and other items in more popular locations in attempts to reunite unclaimed items with their owners.

The municipal government of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, is attempting to convert unidentified photos into a database with the cooperation of Tokyo Gakugei University.

The government is looking into ways in which people can search for photos without being physically present, and is considering displaying photos on the Internet to combat an increasing lack of physical exhibition space.


A volunteer organization storing and displaying photos for identification from disaster-hit areas in Iwanuma, Miyagi Prefecture, was distressed to receive a notice from its city government in early July.

The notice said it would no longer be possible for the organization to store and display such items at the public gymnasium after Aug. 21. and after this date, events to reunite owners with lost items would have to cease.

The government explained it needed to resume normal use of the gym despite more than 30,000 photos being unaccounted for. It would consider how to best dispose of the items, including incineration.

The volunteer organization lodged a protest with the government and has had its use of the gymnasium extended until the end of August.

While helpful, volunteers say the temporary reprieve is not enough. "Even now, about 20 persons a day come to the gym trying to find lost photos," said a 30-year-old male volunteers.

Although the city government has decided to store the remaining photos, officials admit to difficulties.

"Keeping the photos indefinitely is impossible, but out of consideration for the disaster victims, we can't dispose of them that casually," said one official.

The city government of Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, has worked toward storing such photos in freezers to prevent their image quality from worsening.

Some photos were covered with fungus while others had deteriorated because of high temperatures and humidity.


In late March, the central government said in guidelines given to local governments that photos and spirit tablets are different than jewels and cash and have no intrinsic monetary value.

But the guidelines also said such items "may be of value to individuals." They also mentioned taking disaster victims' feelings into consideration: "It is desirable to store [such items] and create opportunities for them to be returned to their owners."

About some local governments' planning to dispose of such items, a senior Justice Ministry official said: "If local governments make concerted efforts to return goods to their owners by openly displaying them or other means, and notify people in advance of their potential disposal, they should not face any legal ramifications."

Read the whole story: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/T110815004170.htm