K. Szezstay

1967-1970

KÁROLY SZESZTAY


Born in 1925 within a Hungarian middle-class family high in traditions but low in income and having lost his father very early, he was educated in the country’s military school system and obtained his first diploma in 1944 a officer of the Corps of Engineers. His brief military carrier ended up in Russia where he spent two years in several camps of prisoners of war and acquired the Russian - Ukrainian language as well as fundamental lessons about keeping smiling and remaining hopeful among conditions of hardship. Released home in July 1947 the second phase of his professional life started at the Technical University of Budapest where he obtained diploma in 1951 at the department of civil engineering with specialization in hydrology and hydraulic engineering. It was already during the university years that he developed close professional and personal relations with Woldemár Lászlóffy who gave him long lasting inspiration and guidance in hydrological research at the institute VITUKI, as well as within the various frameworks of international co-operation in the Danube basin and the International Association of Scientific Hydrology.

His regular contributions for the IASH conferences started at the Dijon symposium in 1956 when he submitted a paper on „Flood forecasting in large river basins” the seed ideas of which were adapted and further developed in Eastern Germany, Austria, Romania and several other countries. His basic knowledge of the Russian and English languages together with the corresponding hydrological terminology brought him into the role of a facilitator of personal acquaintance and professional understanding between leading Western and Soviet hydrologists (such as Dooge, Nash, Dawdy and Amorocco at one side and Kalinin, Svanidze, Bogomolow and Bikow at the other side) during the 1960 Helsinki General Assembly and subsequent occasions including particularly a four days consultation of the Committee on mathematical modelling in hydrology held at Surány, a remote Danube island in Hungary.

His regular contributions and interconnecting services were acknowledged and encouraged by electing him president of the surface waters commission at the Berkeley General Assembly for the 1963 - 1967 period. In this capacity — and with able assistance from Joseph Jaquet, Secretary of the Commission — he actively participated in the formulation of the scientific programme of the UNESCO co-ordinated International Hydrological Decade, as the IASH representative in the working group for such basic topics as the world water balance; the roles of the network of hydrological representative basins and experimental stations (leading to a well attended symposium on the latter topic in 1965 in Budapest).

As an appreciation of these efforts, as well as the long-standing active participation of Hungarian hydrologists in the IASH, the Bern General Assembly elected him president of the Association for the 1967 - 1971 period.

This period became a turning point in both, external relations and internal functioning of the IASH. Externally, the growing recognition of the impact transmitting and integrating role of water within and between the geosphere and the biosphere resulted in organizational adjustments within ICSU: the special committee of COWAR and of SCOPE have been established with significant implications on consultation obligations and programme - formulation proposals of IASH. Internally, Leon Tison as long standing secretary general of the Association willingly accepted the idea that his one man’s full life devotion in planning and managing scientific, organizational and editorial activities be supplemented by regular consultations and sharing the responsibilities with in the Bureau. To this effect and as first such occasions during the history of IASH three sessions of the IASH Bureau have been held during the 1967 - 1970 period (two in Budapest, one in Gentbrugge). The actuality of such a shift has been tragically confirmed by Leon Tison’s suffering a severe heart attack in December 1970 during his way to reaching the plane to the forthcoming IASH symposium in Wellington, New Zealand. As an emergency solution the president of the Association, after informal consultations with members of the Bureau, invited György Kovács, Vice-Director of VITUKI to act as secretary general until the next general assembly. (This solution was clearly supported and extended by the forthcoming assemblies when electing György Kovács as secretary general in 1971, and as president of the association in 1975.)

The year 1971 brought a radical change in Károly’s professional carrier. After earlier acquaintances during the conferences of the UNESCO, the WMO and the UN Economic Commission for Europe, the United Nations Secretariat offered him a regular appointment with the UN Water Resources Centre in New York and through warm support by Imre Dégen, President of the National Water Authority, he obtained secondment of the Government of Hungary for a six years period. Moving to New York City with his wife Margit and their four children he became leader of the Centre’s programme component for seminars, studies and surveys with helpful assistance from Enzo Fano and Alagappa Alagappan. This programme component aimed at the realization and continuation of policy oriented review and application of available knowledge in the field of integrated river basin development and water management as envisaged already in 1951 within the first UN publication in this field prepared by an international panel chaired by Gilbert F. White. Formulating and applying the ideas of shifting the emphasis of water management from the physical and engineering dimension of supply oriented efforts towards the social and political issues of demand oriented management, seminars and conferences were held and volumes of the United Nations Publications series were published on such central problems as the projection of the demand for water and water related services (Budapest, 1972); the prevention and reduction of flood losses in developing countries (New York, 1973); an assessment of major approaches in establishing national systems of water administration (1974) and integrated river basin and inter-basin development planning and policies (Budapest,1975). All these projects were conceived and coordinated as components of the preparatory work for the United Nations Water Conference held in March 1977 in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Returning home in autumn 1977 he joined a team of research and planning under the intellectual guidance of István Orlóci for the elaboration of outlines and directives of long term water management policies in Hungary with the goal of creating an informational basis for all the sectors of the national economy in dealing with water related issues of their competence in a way which would help to compromize the different sectoral values and incentives according to the common national, regional and local interests. The results were published in the form of both, as a framework of projected alternative scenarios (a „master - plan”) in 1984, and as a set of conceptual descriptions summarizing basic assumptions and findings for different sectors and levels of public administration (a „policy - analysis” study report) in 1986. Although he retired from regular office work and formal duties in 1985, he continues to deal with various policy oriented studies as reflection on major international or national events in this field and publishes one or two articles annually (usually in co-authorship with István Orlóci). He also published, in Hungarian, two booklets popularizing facts and trends requiring and signalling rapidly changing relationship between the global economy and the planetary environment in general, and a shift towards demand-oriented water management in particular: one on „The finite patience of our planet” (1992); the other on „Self-organization on the planet of water and life” (2002). Recently he is engaged in reviewing and adapting the EU sponsored 1993-1998 case studies and the monograph on „Selected issues of water resources management in Europe” prepared under conceptual guidance and editorial assistance of B.Barraque, F.N. Correira, A. Kraemer, J.Wessel and T. Zabel.

Budapest, December 2004.