During the era of Japan's post-World War II reconstruction, a schoolboy who loved bugs lived in the town of Koga (present-day city of Koga) in Fukuoka Prefecture.

On every non-school day, the youngster would start roaming the fields at 5 in the morning, armed with a butterfly net and toting a water bottle and "onigiri" rice balls. He was on the hunt for scarabs and tiger beetles, and his favorite books were Japanese translations of Jean-Henri Fabre's (1823-1915) writings on insects.

This lad was Tetsu Nakamura, who died on Dec. 4. He was 73.

A medical doctor by profession, Nakamura was in his fifth year of practice when he and his colleagues climbed the Hindu Kush mountain range, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. The region was known as a habitat of a rare species of the swallowtail butterfly, and Nakamura wanted to see it.

"Had it not been for my love of bugs, I would never have had anything to do with Afghanistan," he later recalled.

Six years after that trek across the mountains, Nakamura started working at a hospital in western Pakistan. But while treating the locals, he felt totally helpless seeing the ravages of severe drought in the region.

"Hunger and thirst cannot be cured with medicine," he was forced to conclude.

And that prompted him to launch his Herculean project of digging wells and laying irrigation channels, so that the locals who have had to abandon their parched villages would not end up as refugees.

"One irrigation channel rather than 100 clinics" became Nakamura's motto.

Hoping to supply clean drinking water and build farming villages capable of producing sufficient crops, he set his goal at digging 2,000 wells, and ventured into remote villages where no other aid organization would go.

The month after 9/11, Nakamura was summoned by the Japanese Diet to speak as an unsworn witness.

"Considering the local state of affairs, dispatching Self-Defense Forces personnel to Afghanistan would do nothing but harm," he asserted.

Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, who were raring to go ahead with the dispatch, demanded that he retract his statement. But Nakamura stood his ground.

Having set root in Afghanistan 35 years ago, he was made an honorary citizen by the Afghan government just this past autumn.

I know of no doctor other than Nakamura who has devoted his life, with total conviction, to serving the people of a faraway country.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 5

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.