The IGU records, with great sadness, the passing of one of its former Presidents, Professor Bruno Messerli, who died on February 4th 2019 following a brave battle with illness.  Secretary-General RB Singh has compiled an appropriately emotional personal tribute, which is copied below and which captures the essence of one of the IGU’s most distinguished and beloved sons.

A Tribute to Great Mountain Luminary and Inspirational Geographer, Ex IGU President Professor Bruno Messerli: 17.09.1931 – 04.02.2019

I am deeply pained and saddened to know the unfortunate demise of Ex IGU President and Professor Emeritus, University of Bern, Professor Bruno Messerli.  I express my deep condolences to his family, friends and well-wishers. After completing Ph.D. in 1962, he became Full Professor in 1969. Other assignments include 1978 – 1983 Director Institute of Geography, 1986/87 Rector University of Bern and 1996 Professor Emeritus. Important awards include 1988: Global 500 Award of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), 1990: Marcel Benoist Prize, 2002: Gold medal of King Albert I Memorial Foundation , 2002: Gold Medal ( Founder’s Medal ) of the Royal Geographical Society, 2002: FAO – Medal for the UN – International Year of Mountains, Global Mountain Summit in Bishkek, Kyrghyzstan

This is my personal loss as I have had a long and close association with him. He visited me at the University of Delhi around 1986 with his student and Co-author of his famous book Dr. Thomas Hofer: Floods in Bangladesh. History, Dynamics and Rethinking the Role of the Himalayas . United Nations University Press, Tokyo / New York 2006.  He was working on UNU Project Himalayan Highland-Lowland Interactive Project together with Professor J.D.Ives. They brought before us the concept of Himalayan Uncertainty from macro to micro levels. He has been strongly involved in the foundation of the ICIMOD- “International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development at Kathmandu”. ICIMOD is an integrated centre for eight Himalayan Countries including India. He organised excellent International UNU Meeting at the ICIMOD, Kathmandu in 1987, where I was invited to participate and contribute. There, I was able to meet most of the active mountain experts of the world. A scientific field trip was also organised by him surroundings to Kathmandu Valley. His pioneering work got published in his monumental book: The Himalayan Dilemma. Reconciling Development and Conservation , UNU / Routledge, London / New York 1989. I assisted him in data collection and he acknowledged me in that book. Being a torchbearer of Mountain studies, his love and dedication for Mountains was deep, enormous and humanitarian, particularly Himalayas always fascinated him.


My first assignment as Full Member in the IGU Commissions/Study Groups started under his leadership and Chairmanship of IGU Commission on “Mountain Geo-ecology and Resource Management” (1988-92). This commission was established at IGC Sydney where I actively participated. Same time I got UNEP-UNITAR Fellowship for training at Lausanne and Geneva in Switzerland. I got some valuable opportunities to visit him at the University of Bern. Once he hosted dinner at his house located in the mountain near Bern, where I met his wife and family members. He organised a field visit to Swiss Mountain for me.

He supervised 35 Ph.D. thesis. He was Vice-President-IGU during 1992-96 and President of the International Geographical Union during 1996-2000. In his Foreword for our Springer Book: “Climate Change, Glacier response, and Vegetation Dynamics in the Himalaya”, published in 2016, he said: The “ICIMOD has calculated that around 1.3 billion people are living in the watersheds of the ten most important rivers from the Himalaya and the Tibet Plateau. What will be the situation at the end of the century! I hope that trans boundary cooperation with this institution will be possible in the future”.

He has devoted his whole life for Mountain Studies. He also contributed to UNCED-Mountain Agenda of the world at Rio Conference and was able to bring before us two group of key worlds: i. Fragile Mountain Ecosystem and ii. Sustainable Mountain Development. His life-long thoughts were published in another famous Book: “Mountains of the World. A Global Priority . Parthenon, Carnforth / New York 1997”. He had played a significant role in bringing the mountains of the world to the level of the united Nations that inserted a mountain chapter in the Agenda 21 and with 10 mountain resolution in the UN General Assembly between 1998 and 2014. Through his efforts, since 2002, 11th December is being celebrated as International Mountain Day. Recently, he said: “the FAO as Task Manager of the mountain chapter in Agenda 21 published a report that 718 million people are living in the mountains of the world, of these 625 million in developing countries and of these 250-370 million live with food insecurity”.

He was very friendly to our research group. My two research students, now colleagues visited Bern in 2017 when he hosted dinner for them. We had a meaningful talk over telephone as well.  He always used to remind all of us a speech of Ex UN Secretary General Kofi Annan during UN Millennium Declaration: “What is needed is a true partnership among developed and developing countries, a partnership that includes science and technology. No nation can afford to be without science and technology capacity”. While writing Foreword of my book, he wrote: “We hope that exactly this Springer publication will help for a north-south dialogue, but also for a  science-policy dialogue and for a trans boundary cooperation, as it was recommended in 2012 in the Rio Plus 20 conference and described in the final document: The Future We Want”.

On the behalf of the world Geography Community, I pay my humble tribute to Prof. Bruno Messerli and thank God for blessing the Geography fraternity in general and IGU in particular with such a beautiful and creative soul, a great and valuable mountain scientist. I pray to God that his soul be Rest in Peace.

R.B. Singh

Secretary General: International Geographical Union (IGU)

Member-International Science Council (ISC)-Scientific Committee-UHW

Professor: Department of Geography, Delhi School of Economics,
University of Delhi, Delhi – 110007, INDIA
Tel.: +91-11- 27553850 (Res), +91-9971950226 (Mob)