Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Augusto Gansser-Biaggi was born in Milan in 1910. He studied Geology at Zürich University, and at the age of 24, before having completed his course, he joined a scientific expedition to East Greenland. In 1936 he obtained his geological degree at Zürich and in the same year he took part in the first Swiss geological expedition to the Himalaya and Southern Tibet, including a geological excursion, disguised as a pilgrim, around the sacred mountain Kailas.
An extensive series of scientific journeys was carried out by Dr. Gansser during the years that followed: to the Andes, the Canadian Arctic, the Norhern Ural, Patagonia, Antarctica, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and in Roraima. In 1958 Dr. Gansser obtained a Professorship, and he was appointed Head of the Geological section of the Federal Institute of Technology and the Zurich University. During that period he carried out further explorations in various regions of the Himalaya, Northern Pakistan, Ladakh, Nepal, Southern Tibet, and especially in Bhutan. The results of his researches were retained in a large number of publications. His now classical book Geology of the Himalaya earned him the Award of the Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographical Society London.
Professor Gansser is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), as well as the Academia Nazionale dei Lincei (Rome). Amongst other honours which he has received Augusto Gansser was awarded the title "Baba Himalaya" (father of the Himalaya) by the University of Peshawar (Pakistan).
Augusto Gansser now lives in Lugano, which is his home town.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Toni Hagen, who has died aged 85, was one of the first foreigners to explore the Kingdom of Nepal and became a leading figure in the field of development aid.
Hagen, a Swiss geologist, first set foot on Nepalese soil in 1950 as a member of a Swiss foreign aid mission which had been invited by the government of Nepal at a time when the country was still "forbidden" to outsiders. He was the first foreigner to be granted access to areas which, even today, are not readily accessible.
Starting from the Tarai plains, then still malarial, he crossed Nepal's populated midland region and travelled up to and beyond the Himalayas. At first he was provided with 200 porters carrying everything from portable showers to teapots and bone china dinner services, but progress was so slow, he soon reduced his retinue to a few selected porters and Sherpa Aila, who became his trusty companion.
Later, over nine years, he walked a total of 14,000 miles, enduring everything from icy blizzards to torrential monsoon rains, while carrying out the first geographical and geological surveys of the country for the Nepalese government and for the United Nations.
During this period, Hagen's interest switched from the geology of Nepal to its inhabitants. He was instrumental in persuading the Swiss government to begin humanitarian assistance and development aid, especially for the building of roads and bridges (Nepal is now a major beneficiary of Swiss development aid), and took a particular interest in the plight of Tibetan refugees fleeing the country after the annexation of Tibet by the Chinese.
In co-operation with the Dalai Lama, he developed a concept of self-help and took the lead in setting up camps and establishing carpet-weaving units to provide the refugees with work and an income. After the failure of the Tibetan uprising in 1959, he brought between 1,000 and 1,500 refugees to Switzerland, establishing a colony which now numbers some 2,000.
Hagen's Nepal: The Kingdom in the Himalayas, first published in 1961, revealed the dramatic landscape and the people of a country which, while no longer "forbidden", was still unknown to most of the outside world. The book became a classic and went into several editions, the last of which, lavishly illustrated, was published in 1998.
Later Hagen became an adviser to the UN's Development Programme and, in the 1960s and 1970s, led missions to trouble spots around the world. He was widely credited with being responsible for the modern pattern of development aid, which he had pioneered in Nepal under the slogan "wages not handouts", a philosophy set out in his books Paths and Wrong Paths in Foreign Aid (1989) and Building Bridges to the Third World (1992).
Toni Hagen was born on August 17 1917 in Lucerne. After taking a diploma in engineering and geology from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, he took a doctorate in the geology of the Welsh mountains, then became a research assistant at the Zurich Geological Institute.
After his first visit to Nepal in 1950-51, Hagen worked as a guest of Mohan Shamser, the last Rana ruler of Nepal, as a government geologist. In 1959 he was appointed director of the Basic Survey Department of Nepal on behalf of the UN, and was involved in carrying out aerial surveys, planning road schemes, building power stations and administering foreign aid plans. In 1961-62 he worked as chief delegate of the International Red Cross, arranging for the aid and resettlement of Tibetan refugees in Nepal and Switzerland.
Hagen left Nepal in 1963 to work as UN representative in Bolivia, advising on the development of the country's oil reserves. From 1966 to 1971, as adviser to the UN's Development Programme, he was given a special mission as "trouble shooter" in crisis-hit areas throughout the world, and travelled widely in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
From 1969, as Special Representative of the UNDP, he undertook three missions to Peru to manage the emergency relief effort after a series of devastating earthquakes; he was chairman of the UNDP reconstruction programme in North Yemen after the seven-year civil war; and in 1971, he led the relief operations in East Pakistan, remaining in the country after the end of the civil war when it became Bangladesh.
Hagen retired from the UN in 1972 to work as a freelance adviser for organisations involved in foreign aid. Two years later, he returned to the Federal Institute of Technology at Zurich where he lectured on the problems of the developing world.
Travelling remained his passion and Hagen made regular visits to Nepal. In the early 1980s he established the Toni Hagen Foundation to promote democratic reforms and better understanding between different ethnic groups in the country. In 1984, at a ceremony in Kathmandu, King Birendra of Nepal awarded him the Birendra Pragya Alankara, Nepal's highest honour, for his service to Nepal.
Nearly 50 years after his first visit, in 1999, Hagen returned to Nepal accompanied by a film crew in order to return a ring, known as "the Ring of the Buddha," to an old friend, the Buddhist monk Chogye Trichen Rimpoche, the last surviving teacher of the Dalai Lama. Rimpoche had given Hagen the ring 40 years earlier as a token of appreciation for his tireless commitment to the welfare of Tibetan refugees.
A documentary feature film The Ring of the Buddha, recounting Hagen's life's work, is now playing in German and Swiss cinemas.
Hagen died on Good Friday, three days after his wife, Gertrud. He is survived by a son and two daughters.