February 14, 2020

Tetsu Nakamura- A Man of Action

Tetsu Nakamura at Gamberi Desert in 2008. From NHK World News

From the northern shore of Japan's Kyushu Island, a man was born in the late 1940s who revolutionized the world with his kindness. As a kid, Tetsu Nakamura was fascinated by the Insecta family and began collecting local beetle and butterfly specimens. He soon realized that hexapod invertebrates he eagerly amassed had shared ancestry with South Asian countries. Childhood hobby made him fall in love with a soon to be turmoiled region, but he never looked away.

As a trained physician, Tetsu joined Japan Overseas Christian Medical Cooperative Service in 1984 and jumped at the opportunity to volunteer at the Peshawar region of Pakistan. He spent the next decade building clinics and hospitals to aid the locals and treated refugees from Afghanistan during the Soviet-Union coup. Managing to earn Tablian's confidence, he moved to Afghanistan and opened three clinics at Nangarhar Province. He even learned Pashto, one of the local languages and his utmost respect for Afghani culture, earned Tetsu an undeniable place in the community.

In the summer of 2000, Tetsu noticed a significant increase in the number of unwell toddlers marching towards his clinic. Poor nutrition and sanitation were primary factors. Drought has been plaguing Afghanistan for several years by then, and water was a revered commodity. He cursed at his inability to treat 'poverty and 'drought.' Their situation got worse after the 9/11 terrorist attack. US army hell-bent on revenge instigated a series of missile attacks on Afghan soil. This forced Tetsu Nakamura and his associates to flee to Pakistan. An excerpt from Nakamura's Journal captures his feelings towards US retaliation "Freedom and Democracy are now conducting a largescale war in reprisal for terrorism. In all likelihood, the sight of the mounded corpses of innocent people will cause pain & bad dreams for the revenge takers themselves. 
As the world's great power coalesce around this small dying country, I am left with a simple doubt; what are they trying to protect?"

Problems spiraled when he returned. Four million people were on the brink of starvation and worse. He knew that 'Food' is the cardinal need of the hour; anything else is a luxury. Shedding his doctor's coat, Tetsu Nakamura set out to do anything in his mortal power to find a solution. Kunar river that flows in eastern Afghanistan caught Nakamura's attention. Kunar is one of the largest river backed by massive glaciers that enables it to flow year-round. Nakamura envisioned a canal that will irrigate the parched fields of Nangarhar Province. With no prior knowledge in architecture, Tetsu yanked inspiration from an old Japanese document. His goal was to build a canal that reaches Gamberi Desert and thereby irrigating 3000 hectares of farmland. This could ensure a better livelihood for more than 100,000 people.

Although several locals joined Nakamura, they faced numerous hardships during the construction of the weir using gabion (Weir- A low head structure built across the river that alters the flow of water, thereby reducing the strong river current). Nakamura solved this problem yet again by consulting an old document, a 1757-Yamada weir plan from his hometown in Japan. Meanwhile, evolving squabbles between the Taliban and the US army raised tensions in the area. At one time, US copters flying above the canal construction site opened fire on Tetsu Nakamura and his team. Thankfully, they escaped the attack with no injuries, and the US government later apologized. In the face of adversities and arid climate, Tetsu Nakamura's adamant conduct and passion towards helping the starving locals forced him to continue his work.

From: NHK world News
By 2010, a 25-kilometer long canal was constructed by Nakamura (Economically backed by Peace Japan Medical Services and several NGOs). It transformed the notorious 'Valley of death.' aka Gamberi desert into green farmlands yielding wheat and several other crops. It not only kickstarted several job opportunities, but it also improved the nourishment of the masses. He continued expanding his irrigation plan to other parts of Afghanistan using his widely popularized "Nakamura Technique." Nakamura vindicated his own saying by his sheer force of action, 
One irrigation canal will do more good than 100 doctors." 

On a fateful December 4th, 2019, Nakamura and five of his associates were attacked by rogue terrorist elements. Nakamura was fatally wounded and died while being airlifted to a military hospital. His death sent a shockwave across Afghanistan and Japan. His funeral was attended by several thousand people who regarded Nakamura as their own family and praised his life's work, which uplifted more than 550,000+ people. The UN released a statement condemning the loss of Nakamura, "UN in Afghanistan condemns and expresses its revulsion at the killing today of respected Japanese aid worker Dr. Tetsu Nakamura in Jalalabad. A senseless act of violence against a man who dedicated much of his life to helping the most vulnerable Afghans." Indian government posthumously awarded him Padma Shri on January 26th, 2020.

Empathy and sagacious intent sum up Tetsu Nakamura's life. He stuck through obscurity and positively impacted the little world he lived in. The seeds he sowed two decades ago, will foster the region for years to come.

Rest Easy, Tetsu Nakamura. 

You showed us the way, and the onus is on us to catch up.


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