Uppugunduri Aswathanarayana

2005 Excellence in Earth and Space Science Education Award Winner


It is a distinct pleasure to present the new international award citation for Uppugunduri Aswathanarayana, honorary director of the Mahadevan International Centre for Water Resources Management, in India. This award, here being presented for the first time, recognizes individuals or small groups that further the Earth and space sciences, and use science for the benefit of society in less favored nations.

I became acquainted with Professor A (as he is known to those who have difficulty pronouncing his name) in the course of geophysical fieldwork in East Africa in the mid-1980s, when he was head of the Department of Geology at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. I have followed his diverse career ever since. In July 2006 he turned 78, but he hasn’t slowed down at all!

His career as an educator in developing countries over the past half-century has been remarkable. He has written a series of six books on ecologically sustainable, economically viable, and employment-generating ways of natural resource management. These volumes have received excellent reviews in international scientific journals, and are used as university-level textbooks and reference books all over the world.

In Tanzania, Professor A demonstrated in many ways how science can benefit society. As an example, he and his associates made use of geochemical and isotopic tools to understand the etiology of, and design mitigation methods for, geoenvironment-related diseases, such as fluorosis (caused by excessive amounts of fluoride in drinking water). Fluorosis is endemic in northern Tanzania, where the extremely high fluoride content of some natural waters can be traced to episodic leaching of highly soluble villiaumite (NaF) present in the volcanic ash. Two methods of mitigation were developed through understanding of the sources and pathways of fluoride to humans:

  1. Because pond water in tholeiitic basalt terrain tends to be less fluorous, such ponds were recommended to be color-coded green, to help the local people identify safer drinking water, and
  2. defluoridation measures were designed for the community and home, through gypsum/alum-lime treatment or by passing the fluorous water through activated charcoal made from coconut shell.

Aswathanarayana moved to Mozambique in 1990. As an adviser to the government of Mozambique he designed and instituted a Centre for Technology Transfer, and got it recognized as a Satellite Centre of the UNESCO Institute for Trace Element Research.

In a poor suburb of Maputo, Mozambique’s capital city, he developed a series of geoscience-based microenterprises, customized to the environmental and socioeconomic situations of individual families. The microenterprises addressed drinking water (through boreholes), housing (manually compressed soil-cement bricks), sanitation (Indian-style pour/flush latrines), energy (fuel-efficient cook stoves), capture of rainwater from rooftops, and harvesting of surface runoff. The project, titled “Innovative use of people-participatory technologies for poverty alleviation and improvement of the quality of life,” was chosen by the Third World Network of Scientific Organizations and the United Nations as an outstanding example of innovation in Africa.

Professor A returned to India in late 2001 where he founded and has since been involved in the development of the Mahadevan International Centre for Water Resources Management, a clearinghouse for water sciences and technologies in developing countries. The Mahadevan Centre has already been formally recognized by UNESCO as a Centre of Excellence in Earth Sciences.

Uppugunduri Aswathanarayana has devoted a professional lifetime to the needs of students and practicing scientists in developing countries. He has been awarded Fellowship in the Third World Academy of Sciences “in recognition of his outstanding contributions to science, and to the development of science in the South.” Today the American Geophysical Union recognizes him similarly with its new international award.

—HENRY POLLACK, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


I am grateful to AGU for granting me the new international award. More than the award itself, I am deeply touched by the grace and elegance of the language used by the president of AGU in communicating the award. He said that I am the “first recipient of the AGU’s newest award,” that “my contributions epitomized the purpose of the award,” and that my “contributions will bring distinction to the award, and set a high mark for the future.” I will remember all of my life these kind words of appreciation. It is a great honor to be a member of an institution that so vigorously promotes and cherishes excellence.

Henry Pollack, the nominator, has been my lucky talisman. His nomination got me the AGU Award for Excellence in Geophysical Education in 2005, and now this award. I am grateful to him for the kind words he has been pleased to say about me in the citation. I am thankful to my former associates Evelyne Mbede, of Tanzania, and Filipe Lucio, of Mozambique, for supporting my candidature.

I served the University of Dar es Salaam for 10 years (1980–1990). In Tanzania, like in any other developing country, things go wrong all the time. I deliberately designed fail-safe systems. We built our own power supply and water supply. We distilled our own water and chemicals. The departmental building was fitted with a steel trellis, and unpickable locks, to prevent burglaries, which are common. The facilities that we built were made use of to serve the country’s mineral industries, and to tackle geoenvironment-related health problems such as fluorosis, goiter, stomach cancer, etc.

In Mozambique, I not only served as Commonwealth Professor in the University, but also held a number of consultancies, such as UNDP, World Bank, SIDA, Louis Berger, etc. Mozambique happened to be the world’s lowest-income country. One of the most challenging tasks I faced was to design microenterprises to provide the livelihood for the poor in a slum near Maputo. The toughest case was that of an illiterate woman, with no skills. She is Catholic and does not observe family planning. She had five children, no husband, and a blind mother. I recommended for her a manual maize mill. She provides the milling of maize as a service, and uses the maize waste (20–25% of the feed) to raise ducks. The manual maize mill is fixed in concrete in the hut, to prevent it from being stolen. All the members of her family, including the blind mother, could operate the maize mill, and earn their livelihood.

Since returning to India in December 2001, I have been engaged in promoting a Water Resources Centre in the name of my guru, the late C. Mahadevan. The mission of the Centre is to serve as a clearinghouse for water sciences and technologies in developing countries. The Centre is making steady progress.

—UPPUGUNDURI ASWATHANARAYANA, Mahadevan International Centre for Water Resources Management, Hyderabad, India