The murder of Tetsu Nakamura in Afghanistan this week was a horrific tragedy for both Afghanistan and Japan. Nakamura's passionate commitment to helping the people of Afghanistan earned him not only immense respect but friendship, too. That commitment also made him a target of the reactionary and xenophobic forces in Afghanistan that prefer privation and instability, conditions in which they can flourish. Those who support and admire Nakamura's work must not be deterred by this appalling act but must instead honor his memory and his work by continuing to assist those most in need throughout the world.
Nakamura first visited Afghanistan in the 1970s, drawn to the region by a fascination with insects and a desire to climb its mountains, and he quickly developed a deep affection for the area. After completing his medical training, he returned in the 1980s to Peshawar, Pakistan, to work in medical clinics to help locals and refugees fleeing war in neighboring Afghanistan.
As his medical practice spread to eastern Afghanistan, Nakamura discovered that drought and dirty water were a greater threat than disease. First he dug wells — more than 1,600 in total — but he then introduced and helped spread age-old Japanese irrigation techniques that required little technology. Eventually, his efforts yielded a network of canals that transformed a region that was home to almost 1 million people, turning nearly 24,300 hectares of desert into forests and productive wheat farmlands.