Photo/IllutrationTetsu Nakamura directs an aid project in Afghanistan in December 2012. (Provided by Peshawar-kai)

Tetsu Nakamura dedicated himself to improving the lives of people in Afghanistan through consistent and persistent efforts firmly tethered to the reality of local communities and carefully tailored to the needs of local people.

Nakamura’s lifelong mission, however, was abruptly ended on Dec. 4 in a brutal and outrageous way as he was killed in an attack by gunmen in eastern Afghanistan.

Nakamura, who was 73 and a medical doctor by profession, had been working for more than three decades to help rebuild Afghan irrigation and agriculture. He was gunned down while driving to a site of irrigation work in Jalalabad, the capital of the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Nakamura had reportedly told his aides that he would continue working in the country for at least 20 more years. It is hard not to feel outrage at the violent act that cut short his noble quest. We express our deep sorrow at the deaths of Nakamura and five other people, including Afghani security guards, who were killed in the apparent ambush.

Nakamura, who first went to Afghanistan to treat patients, started working for the development of local agriculture after he witnessed the devastating effects of severe drought that struck the country in 2000.

He painfully realized that medicines cannot save lives if there is no water or food. A sense of helplessness drove him into studying civil engineering on his own.

Nakamura made a point of seeing things from the local people’s point of view and thinking and acting accordingly.

He tried to use local materials, adopt local ways of doing things and tap into local manpower as much as possible.

He often said that foreign aid workers are accepted by local people only if they deal with local customs and cultures without prejudice and put aside their own values for a while. These words offer some invaluable lessons for efforts to help people in other countries.

Nakamura was the local head of Peshawar-kai, a nongovernmental organization he established in his hometown of Fukuoka, to provide medical care to refugees and help rebuild infrastructure in the war-torn region.

The organization has drilled some 1,600 wells and irrigated some 16,500 hectares of farmland, reviving the fertility of the soil. It is equivalent to 2.6 times of the total area inside the Yamanote railway loop line in Tokyo.

His work has enabled an estimated 150,000 Afghan refugees to return home.

But there have been few signs of improvement in the security situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban, the anti-government militant organization, and the Islamic State, the jihadist radical organization, have infiltrated much of the country and continue attacking international aid and nongovernmental organizations to damage the government.

Peshawar-kai was forced to rethink its operations in the country after Japanese member Kazuya Ito, who was 31, was killed in 2008.

The body closed most of its clinics and its Japanese members left the country. But Nakamura remained in Afghanistan to continue irrigation work.

“You are protected when you are engaged in activities to protect the lives of local people,” he once said and acted on this belief.

It would be unfair to describe his decision to keep working in the country as “reckless.”

In addition to governments and international aid organizations, NGOs are playing an increasingly important role in humanitarian aid.

People in the most unsafe areas often need such aid the most. This should not be forgotten.

NGOs can make a valuable contribution to humanitarian causes if they cooperate with the United Nations and other international organizations in such areas to meet the needs of local people while taking sufficient safety measures.

Nakamura also said, “We go where nobody is willing to go.”

Peshawar-kai says it will continue its activities while keeping his words in mind.

Let us pray that the green landscape Nakamura has created out of a desert will remain intact for a long time.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 6