Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Can indigenous knowledge reduce climate disaster risk?

Can indigenous knowledge reduce climate disaster risk?

Posted on 17 November 2009. Filed under: Early Warning, Environment



"...I have just spent three weeks in Northern Kenya among the Borana
people, followed by three weeks in Mindanao, southern Philippines, partly
with the Higaonan tribe. Vastly different countries yet I was immediately
struck by the similarities in the challenges the communities faced,
including drought, conflict, floods and general environmental degradation.
In my discussions with the indigenous communities I wondered how they had
survived in the past to change with their environment and why they
appeared less able to cope today? The answer lies in the richness of
indigenous knowledge. Indigenous communities had and still have knowledge
that enables them to adapt to environmental change. Indigenous knowledge
can help reduce vulnerability and that is something we need to take into
account as we develop strategies to reduce risk.


"Our knowledge helps us to cope. We have strong community support and an
early warning system which helps us be prepared," reported one Filipino
living in a flood- and conflict-affected area in northern Mindanao. "We
used to be able to cope with the effects of drought … they were not so bad
before," said a Borana pastoralist struggling to keep his livestock alive
in northern Kenya. Indigenous knowledge is still relevant, but we need to
be careful not to over-romanticise it. As the Kenyan I spoke with
suggests, indigenous knowledge is perhaps less relevant in the context of
an increased pace of change being experienced today, which could be due to
worsening environmental degradation or climate change. Climate change is
affecting many indigenous communities throughout the world. Environmental
degradation resulting from inappropriate human activity is also a major
threat. For example, the loss of traditional farming techniques can lead
to damage as families adopt modern techniques that are seen as more
sophisticated but are perhaps not suited to the specific context. So given
all these threats and pressures upon indigenous communities to 'change',
the big question is: Can indigenous knowledge still help reduce disaster
risk now and in the future? The fact that indigenous communities have
survived for centuries in hazardous environments suggests it can. So why
are we not utilising this rich indigenous knowledge within international
efforts to reduce disaster risk? The loss, misuse of and general disregard
for indigenous knowledge is partly the fault of 'science'. We in the West
have been quick to dismiss indigenous knowledge as inferior and

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