Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, Peshawar-kai

Dr. Tetsu Nakamura heads Peshawar-kai, an organization with its roots in helping Afghans in Pakistan which expanded into Afghanistan and currently helps in irrigation, agriculture, and humanitarian issues.rnrnDr. Nakamura is a long time friend to Ambassador Dr. Sayed M. Amin Fatimie, having personally treated the Ambassador in the past.

How did you become involved with Afghans and Afghanistan?

This is a very interesting story. People tried to explain this as if I had a very noble idea in my mind, as if “for the poor Afghans he tried his best and was dedicated,” or something like that. But actually, I used to be a mountain climber. In 1979 or 1978, I visited the Hindu Kush mountains. On the way back, I visited the Afghan side - that was the first time. Then after several days some organization - a Japanese NGO - requested me to work somewhere around there. I liked that area so I was happy to be assigned there. That was 1980-this was the beginning.

And after that, my task force -my initial task force - joined the leprosy control program in Pakistan. But in Peshawar, more than half the population is Afghan. And the patients, especially in remote areas where leprosy is common, the majority of the patients were Afghans. But according to the guideline the Pakistan government is just responsible for the Pakistani patients. I thought the Pakistani patients are also in difficulty, but they have some authority to be looked after, but the Afghans do not - this is the beginning. And after this after several years, I continued my task.

Then I realized, “only the leprosy control is realistic?” This plan is made by who? I thought, somedays I have to go to the patient side. But the malaria patient came - he was just about to expire and I just had leprosy medecine. Is this really leprosy control? Where leporosy is common also infectious diseases are also common. So I realized, this plan is made on a desk, by those who don’t know the real condition of Afghanistan. So then I changed my guideline. I put a general clinic inside Afghanistan where leprosy is common and at the same time there are other diseases that are very common. We started checking general patients - and leprosy is one of the diseases. I changed. Then we started opening the clinic in Nuristan.

Your activities have changed a lot. You’ve become a very grassroots organization helping a lot in irrigation and agriculture. How has that been going?

That’s a very good question. I have been asked by many people, “you are doctor. Why are you digging wells and making canals?” The turning point was 2000, it was summer season and a serious drought hit Afghanistan. According to the WHO at that time, more than 12 million Afghans were being affected by the drought, and more than 4 million were starving, and one million would be expired soon. There was a clinic in the area. Of course I’m a doctor, I was checking the patients. But the villages were disappearing one by one. What’s the sense in the presence of a medical clinic? Even if they bring the patients, the majority of patients were starved and malnutritioned and dehydrated. Then I realized, even if we brought many antibiotics, we couldn’t help the patients - just food and water (could). Then we started the water program. So in my brain, these needs are on the same line as (the need for) doctors.

Can you tell me any positive news or positive progress in Afghanistan since your time there?

Mainly, the core activity is limited on the northern side of Nangahar. But one thing is going very well: after starting completing canals, a lot of people have come back. For example, by taking the time of 8 years, we have completed 25-kilometers of irrigation canal. And this has been providing for more than 3,000 hectares. In the beginning, 8 years ago, it was almost desert - now they have come back from very miserable refugee camps in Pakistan. We have been repairing the intake area.

Because as you know, Global Warming is doing something horrible. Afghanistan is one of the victims. Up to 20, 30 years ago, people could take water by a simple method - by manual - but these days it’s very difficult because of Global Warming. An Afghan proverb says “in Afghanistan we don’t need money. We can survive without money. But without water, It’s impossible to survive.” This is from the position of the farmers’ view. Now after bringing this method - actually this is a Japanese traditional method from several hundreds of years ago – this is very suitable to Afghanistan. We have been repairing one intake to another intake - epecially this year. One district has more than 300,000 in population, and at the worst time, more than half of them used to be in Pakistan. Now because of water they’ve come back. At least the northern side of Jalalabad – almost the whole area is a huge oasis.

What misconceptions about Afghanistan would you like to change?

They should use their own eyes. Japanese tend to believe the Western media. This should be reconsidered. There is so many other media sources such as al-Jazeera now. They should consider realistically (and not influenced by Western sources), what is the role of a burqa, what are madrassas, and so many of these issues.