A Japanese doctor who brought canal-building techniques from his hometown to help irrigate arid areas in Afghanistan was killed by a group of gunmen in the eastern part of the country on Wednesday.
Tetsu Nakamura, 73, founder of nongovernmental organization Peace Japan Medical Services (PMS), was on his way to work in Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province when the unidentified suspects fired bullets at his vehicle.
Nakamura, who was shot on the right side of his chest, received surgical treatment in a local hospital but died while being transferred to an airport that would have supposedly sent him to the medical facility of an American military base in Bagram, Parwan province.
The attack killed five others in his vehicle, including the driver, three security guards, and a colleague, according to the BBC.
The Japanese physician’s death came on the same day the State Department announced that its Afghan peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, is back to restart talks with the Islamist militant organization Taliban.
Just last week, an American working for the United Nations died after an explosion struck his vehicle in the Afghan capital Kabul.
Born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1946, Nakamura first took an interest in insects living in the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, traveling to the area in 1978.
However, meeting locals desperate for medical attention eventually changed the course of his journey.
“As a medical doctor, that was regrettable. This remained in my mind for a long time,” he said, according to a biography published by the Ramon Magsaysay Award.
Nakamura received the prize in 2003 for “his passionate commitment to ease the pain of war, disease and calamity among refugees and the mountain poor of the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands.”
In 1984, Nakamura answered a recruitment call to treat leprosy patients in the border city of Peshawar in Pakistan.
Soon, he started treating Afghan refugees pouring over the border in the wake of the 1979 Soviet invasion, according to Al Jazeera.
Nakamura reportedly helped build a 70-bed hospital in Peshawar, as well as three satellite clinics in Afghanistan, one of which is in Nangarhar.
While immersed in medical work, Nakamura learned that patients in Nangarhar had been dealing with another problem: the lack of a clean water source.
Nakamura was determined to help people live better.
“Drugs cannot cure hunger or thirst,” he told NHK in an earlier interview. “So I decided to go beyond the narrow field of medicine and work to ensure that people can have enough food and water. It was a big shift.”
In the 2000s, Nakamura began mobilizing villagers to dig deep wells, and later, build canals, drawing inspiration from techniques his hometown had employed 200 years ago.
By the time of his death, he managed to help build a network of canals that improved the lives of nearly one million people and irrigated some 60,000 acres (24,300 hectares) of then-arid lands.
So far, no one has come forward to claim responsibility for shooting Nakamura and his company. Both the Taliban and ISIS are reportedly active in the area, but the former has denied involvement.
“He showed us life — he helped build our land. He was a leader to us,” a resident from Nangarhar’s Khewa district told The New York Times. “I feel like they have killed my closest family member. They left us without Nakamura.”
A male witness believes that the attack was premeditated. He claims to have seen four gunmen drive to a restaurant near the ambush site in two separate cars, according to The Japan Times.
The witness, who hid at the restaurant, allegedly heard one of the men say “It’s finished, let’s go,” before fleeing in their cars.