Japanese doctor transformed drought-hit Afghan area into productive farmland

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - “I’ll be active for another 20 years” said Tetsu Nakamura, a doctor and local representative of the non-governmental organisation Peshawar-kai, who was shot to death on Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan.

Tetsu Nakamura, a doctor and local representative of the nongovernmental organization Peshawar-kai, who was shot to death on Wednesday in eastern Afghanistan, had told those around him, “I’ll be active for another 20 years.”

 The 73-year-old doctor started providing medical assistance in Pakistan 35 years ago and had since expanded his activities to improve wells and irrigation canals, aiming for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. 

 “We will inherit his will and continue the projects,” an official of the NGO said. 

 “I just can’t believe it,” Mitsuji Fukumoto, a director of the NGO in charge of public relations, repeatedly said at a press conference at its office in Fukuoka.

 The first report of the shooting reached the NGO before 1 p.m. on the day. It said that Nakamura had been shot in the chest but was not in danger of dying. However, three hours later, the news of his death arrived. Some people in the office broke down in tears.

 “Although he had no experience in civil engineering, he learned the knowledge by himself and dug wells and constructed canals. He was not fluent in the local language, but he was a man with deep ambition,” Fukumoto said in a choked voice.

 Nakamura was said to have four or five bodyguards around him when he went out, and changed his travel routes every day.

 Regarding future activities of the NGO in Afghanistan, Fukumoto said, “Although it may be difficult to continue our activities as before because Nakamura is the only person who can lead and manage our activities, we believe that it is Nakamura’s will to keep the projects going.”

 Nakamura is not the first victim from the NGO. In August 2008, Kazuya Ito, who was working in Afghanistan, died at 31 after being the victim of an attack. After the incident, Nakamura accompanied the body to Japan and attended the funeral.

 Ito’s father Masayuki, 72, who lives in Kakegawa, Shizuoka Prefecture, stated: “I can’t even comment because I can’t confirm if [Mr. Nakamura] really died. I can’t believe it.”

Canals over clinics

 “Why do you, as a doctor, continue to dig wells and build canals in harsh environments?” This is the question Nakamura was asked every time he gave a lecture in Japan.

  He said that seeing children suffering from dysentery after drinking muddy water due to drought led him to conclude: “Hunger cannot be cured by medicine. One canal, rather than 100 clinics, is needed.” 

 In 1984, Nakamura was assigned to a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan. Following a major drought in Afghanistan in 2000, he shifted his focus from medical assistance to irrigation projects and agricultural assistance. He worked hard with local staff, saying, “Support for people’s lives, not weapons, is the path to peace.”

 When his second son was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2001, he did not stay in Japan but went back and forth every two months, saying, “I can’t afford to abandon my patients.” His son died about 1½ years later at 10.

 “To die at 10 and 80 is the same thing in terms of completing one’s life. I’ve seen a lot of deaths on the front line of our activities,” Nakamura said at the funeral.

 Since 2003, Nakamura had provided water to 16,500 hectares of farmland to support 650,000 people by building irrigation canals with Afghan residents. In recognition of his achievements, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani awarded him a medal in February last year, and a citizenship card in October this year.

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