Photo/Illutration Afghans harvest rice on a canal-irrigated farm on Oct. 10. (Provided by Peace Japan Medical Services)

Humanitarian workers in Afghanistan following in the footsteps of Tetsu Nakamura continue to risk their lives a year after the famed medical doctor was gunned down in an ambush that also claimed the lives of five others.

Now, as then, the security situation in the landlocked war-torn country remains extremely volatile.

Nakamura and his colleagues were ambushed while driving in the eastern city of Jalalabad on Dec. 4, 2019. He was 73.

After the incident, local public security forces arrested a number of suspects and searched locations connected to the individuals. As yet, though, they are no closer to understanding the motive for the attack.

Staying safe remains an issue of utmost importance.

In August, an armed group stormed a prison only several hundred meters from the site where Nakamura was attacked, leaving 29 people dead.

More than 1,000 inmates, many of them members of armed groups, took advantage of the turmoil and escaped. A branch of the Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the meantime, foreign aid to Afghanistan is dwindling.

U.S. troops, a major backer of the government, began to withdraw from the country in March.

In November, agreement was reached on the amount of foreign aid to be provided to the Afghan government in 2021. The figure is down nearly 50 percent from the corresponding sum a decade earlier.

The shrinking foreign aid will inevitably take a toll on the public welfare sector, where humanitarian aid will be a lifeline. Aid workers, however, run a daily risk of being targeted by armed groups.

According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, armed attacks in Afghanistan targeted 193 aid workers during the five years from 2016.

Along with the unstable security situation, the COVID-19 pandemic is placing additional shackles this year on aid work.

Even so, Peace Japan Medical Services (PMS), a nongovernmental organization that Nakamura headed in Afghanistan, continues to provide medical care, along with irrigation and farming skills, under his Japan-based “Peshawar-kai” nongovernmental group.

In August, the Peshawar-kai secretariat received an emergency phone call from Afghanistan. The caller said part of an irrigation canal that Nakamura had helped dig was now buried in dirt.

It emerged that a mudflow occurred in the area where PMS is working, leaving 16 people dead or missing and 300 or so buildings destroyed.

The irrigation canal, which Nakamura helped build, was also damaged and the water supply had stopped, the caller said.

Once the dirt was removed, however, a river wall emerged intact from beneath, and the restoration work was completed after about a week.

PMS staff and local residents who volunteered for the cleanup work were amazed at the sight and said with admiration that Nakamura had been right all along.

No concrete was used in the river wall. Instead, cages called “gabions,” woven from iron wire and filled with stones, were piled up to create the wall, which was reinforced by planting willow trees so they would take root there.

That traditional technique had been adopted by Nakamura, who hoped that residents would be able to maintain and manage the irrigation canal even when no expensive materials or equipment were available.

The canal irrigates 16,500 hectares of land, with more than 1.2 million trees planted on it. The swath of earth that had transformed into a desert was green again, with 650,000 farmers back on it. The farms there are producing rice, wheat, sugar cane, orange and other fruits, vegetables and beans, with bee culture also taking hold.

Construction of another irrigation canal is scheduled to begin next year.

Irrigation and farming experts are using online conferencing systems and other means to advise those in Afghanistan from the Peshawar-kai secretariat in Fukuoka.

A textbook written by Nakamura, titled “Green Ground Project” in Japanese, has been translated, for practical use, into English, Dari and Pashto, the latter two being languages of Afghanistan.

“Dr. Nakamura wanted the project in Afghanistan to go on for 20 years,” Masaru Murakami, president of Peshawar-kai, said during a memorial meeting held in Fukuoka on Nov. 23. “That is turning little by little into reality.”

(This article was written by Ryo Sasaki in Fukuoka and Masatomo Norikyo in Bangkok.)