Obituary: Dr. Otto Langenegger – Kloss (22 April 1938 — 19 February 2023)

I am sorry to inform you of the passing of Dr. Otto Langenegger, who peacefully left us on 19 February, 2023 surrounded by his family, aged 84. 

Dr Langenegger was the pioneer of rapid handpump corrosion. His seminal publications in 1989 and 1994 set the foundation for all that followed in trying to understand and address this phenomenon.

In his eulogy, he was poignantly referred to as a “nomad around water”. He grew up, in humble surroundings, close to Lake Constance in eastern Switzerland, the youngest of six siblings. 

His thirst for discovering and learning could not be quenched by his apprenticeship as a radio technician in Winterthur. He was a through-and-through scientist and researcher, moving between subjects throughout his life, and building on the learning from one area as he branched into another. Together with his wife Dorothea, he moved to work in Canada for several years, from where he was able to, amongst other experiences, be part of an expedition to the Arctic, an exposure that he relished for the rest of his life. 

Dr. Langenegger and his wife, with their two sons Urs and Thomas, moved back to Switzerland, and he completed his first PhD at the University of Bern in 1973. But he was soon on the move again, this time to Ethiopia, where he worked as a Hydrogeologist with the Christoffel Mission. He was fascinated by the people and culture, and was saddened to have to leave in 1976 due to the difficult political situation at the time.

Dr. Langenegger was not long back in Switzerland, before heading off to Africa in 1981, initially to Ghana, where he worked for the World Bank on the pioneering water well drilling and handpump installation project of its time in West Africa. This position, and the subsequent assignment based out of Abidjan, took him to Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Mali and Niger.

As a keen observer and compassionate man, Dr Langenegger was both intrigued and appalled by the ‘red water’ problem, coupled with corroding and failing handpumps that he observed in many parts of West Africa during his field work. And so, he set out to understand the causes. Initially using his own allowances to test water quality, he diligently researched this issue. One of his colleagues from the time told me that he stayed in the cheaper hotel in Kumasi – saving money for testing, and filling the bathtub with his tests. He also had his wife, Dorothea, cook plantain with different concentrations of iron-rich water from the rapidly corroding handpumps to see what happened to them. They changed colour.

Anyone working on handpump corrosion is familiar with Otto Langenegger’s seminal publications (1989 and 1994), which have provided the foundation for all that has followed on this topic. His second PhD was in fact on Handpump Corrosion. 

After returning to Switzerland in 1989, Dr. Langenegger set up his private consultancy practice, working out of his home in Gais, Appenzell. Overlooked by snow-capped Alpstein mountains, his interest in water found an outlet in learning about the blue coloured snow, high on the slopes. And so once again, this through-and-through researcher set about observing, measuring and interpreting. I would say that Dr. Langenegger’s, keen interest and thirst for knowledge in relation to water was insatiable. 

It was 2019 that Dr. Langenegger, who would soon to be known to me by the informal address simply as Otto, contacted me. He had found my own report on Rapid handpump corrosion in Burkina Faso and beyond and wanted to know more. Otto was both disgusted that the corrosion problem had not been fully addressed (after more than 30 years), but was also pleased that it was at least being looked at again. Unbeknown to me previously, he lived just a few stops along the train line from St. Gallen where I am based! 

Otto had been out of touch with the water supply world in Africa for a long time, but had, now and then, searched for what may have followed on from his work on handpump corrosion. And so he was aware of the presentation entitled  ‘New signs of an old Problem’ at the WaTer Conference in Oklahoma in 2015 by Vincent Casey, Lawrence Brown and Jake Carpenter.

Over the last two and a half years that Otto and I were able to share, he followed all of the ongoing efforts and work to address rapid handpump corrosion – the issue which he has pioneered in the 1980s. He was delighted to be able to talk about the subject, and, researcher that he was, always asked such pertinent questions and put forward ideas. 

Throughout his long illness, and even as he grew weak towards the end of his magnificent life, he always wanted to hear the latest news. His delight to hear that the corroding handpumps in Ghana had been replaced in the 1990s is something that will always remain with me. “It was not all for nothing” he remarked, fist in the air, referring to his efforts over 30 years ago.

Dr. Otto Langenegger will be much missed. May he Rest in Peace.

He leaves behind a large family: 

Urs and Marika Langenegger-Bohse with their children Tabea, Dominik and Eliane.

Thomas and Anita Langenegger Vogel, with their children Samuel, Jonas, Elias, Rahel and Salome.

His sister, Rosa Massey-Langenegger.

Author: Kerstin Danert

Rural water supply and groundwater specialist, with a focus on low income countries. Working as a researcher, facilitator and consultant.

6 thoughts on “Obituary: Dr. Otto Langenegger – Kloss (22 April 1938 — 19 February 2023)”

  1. Message from Saul:
    Dear all–Please accept my sad feelings and position re the letter on Otto’ departure please transfer my feelings and the loss to the water activities -we worked together within the Program (World Bank, Undp, Unicef Govts and organisations )–the improvement of the Hand Pump and In all related aspects—he was a friend and teacher I was the manager of the Program and his contribution to the Handpump technology was one of the most important element

    Please send my massage to his family and all your group

    Saul (Shaul) Arlosaoroff

    1. Thank you Shaul for your condolations, i will let my family and the family of Urs know.

      i wish you the best!
      Samuel Langenegger

  2. May his soul rest in peace. May God Almighty give his family the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.

  3. Comments from members of RWSN Online Groundwater Community:

    Very sad news. May his soul rests in peace. ADOLPHE DIATTA

    May the Lord comfort his family and the RWSN Family. His contributions shall remain indelible and relevant in the annals of sustainable development of groundwater.
    Oluwole Oyedeji, Private practitioner, Nigeria

    I have heard much about Otto over the years, mostly from Kerstin and I have come to respect him for his achievements. May his soul rest in peace. Adedotun Adekile, Nigeria

    Never had the honour of meeting Dr Langenegger in person, but I have used his publication as reference many times. Please convey my condolences to his family. Raj Kumar Daw, Pune, India

    Our Deepest Condolences . May His Soul Rest In Peace. With Regards, Jimson Kurian, Senior Manager- Export Marketing, Ajay Industrial Corporation Limited, India

    The Water & Sanitation Sector in Ghana has immensely benefited from his pioneering work in hand pump technology. Sector practitioners today are eternally grateful. May his gentle soul rest eternally in the bosom of the Lord. BENEDICT K.A.N. KUBABOM.

    My sincere condolences, him and his family will be in our thoughts and prayers. Debbie Ansley

    My sincere condolences, may the almighty God give the family the fortitude to bear the loss. Aliyu Aliyu

    May the departed soul rest in peace. Please convey my condolences to his family. Umesh Kumar, Country Head – Nigeria, INDO AFRICA RELIEFLINE LIMITED

    Dear Kerstin, I never met him (as you did so serendipitously), but I owe Dr Langenegger a debt of gratitude in that his seminal papers of the late ‘80s and early ’90s alerted me to the fact that soluble iron in groundwater was not only a problem in Kenya, where I had encountered it in the late ‘80s; but a broader issue. I also shared his frustration (as I believe you do, too) that 30 (!) years later, knowledge of the issue and its possible solutions still remains poorly understood and applied. Thanks to Vincent Casey et al, and most recently yourself (“Stop The Rot”), the issue has not slipped entirely from sight … Hydrogeoscience owes Dr Langenegger a debt that many in the discipline remain unaware of. Regards, Mike Lane, Kenya

    It is indeed sad to hear this news. As a hydrogeologist, we lost the pioneer who gave visibility to one of the most overlooked problems in the groundwater sector. I first read about Dr. Langenegger’s work after joining the RWSN which is later being addressed in detail by the “Stop the Rot” group. He as a true pioneer of the field and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations.May his soul rest in peace! Please extend my condolences to his family during this difficult time. Sabina Khatri, Nepal

    Our condolences, please. We mourn with the family, friends and colleagues. Dr. Uzodinma Adirieje, Nigeria

    Re Mike Lane’s comments: The corrosion issue highlighted by Dr Langenegger has certainly not been forgotten. We (Poldaw Designs and WaterAid Uganda) are about to install a trial of 100 pumps that are a variant of the IM2/3 with a robust heavy duty pvc riser system fit for depths to 60 metres. And the system cost is comparable with standard galvanised steel IM2 pipes. We will update RWSN as this progresses. Regards Sandy Polak

    He was not just a water scientist but also one who will look for possible sustainability and permanent eradication of Water scarcity. I have read through his works, they are all profound. Rest in peace legend

  4. Dear Kerstin, Dear Mr. Arlosaoroff,
    Thank you very much for your very kind thoughts. It‘s comforting to know, my father‘s work and research are appreciated.

    Yours sincerely
    Thomas Langenegger

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