Translating Traditional Disaster Risk Reduction and #Climate Change Adaptation Knowledge Into Action

Posted on January 8, 2012

UN Solution Exchange: A query floated by safter world communication at UN Solution Exchange’s Disaster and Climate Change Community got responses from various members of these communities that what are the way and means to translate traditional disaster risk reduction-DRR and Climate change adaptation-CCA knowledge in action.

It is felt that there is a need to translate this existing rich and in-depth traditional knowledge into handy and quick reference material using creative communication techniques and to disseminate this information to vulnerable communities, grassroots disaster managers, local administrators, NGOs in disaster-prone areas and other information seekers.

The Safer world feel that one way of doing this is to build up a digital repository of such stories from across geo-climatic zones focusing on the thematic areas of water, shelter, livelihoods and early warning. These leads can subsequently be subjected to a stringent review process and can eventually form the basis for a comprehensive e-learning platform aimed at policy decision makers and field practitioners.

Following is summary of the response as compiled by UN Solution Exchange team:

  • Traditional knowledge developed through thousands of years of experience and intimate contact with the environment is a precious resource that could contribute substantially to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) if captured properly and documented comprehensively.
  • The use of traditional early warning knowledge by ‘primitive tribes’ like the Onge and Jarawas of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands to escape the devastation of the Tsunami was highlighted.
  • Careful observation of the behavior of animals, appearance and color of the sky have been used as early warning of natural disasters and ancient religious texts have quoted several approaches to tackle the challenges of natural disasters.
  • The major challenge in replicating traditional knowledge and practices is lack of documentation therefore translating traditional knowledge into local languages will lead to effective implementation of DRR and CCA programmes.
  • A three stage process involving development of a network of informants, establishment of a vetting process and documentation of authentic information needs to be evolved.
  • The documentation could be in the form of stand-alone photo-essays, reading materials, multimedia including audio, videos etc. and they need to be categorized for effective electronic storage and recovery.
  • Researchers at Tata Institute of Social Sciences are involved in a research project that attempts to capture local knowledge systems related to Early Warning Systems (EWS) with respect to coastal hazards in Kerala through in-depth interviews and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs).
  • The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) publication “Indigenous Knowledge for DRR” (2008) is an elaborate document highlighting Indigenous Traditional Knowledge.
  • The Development Research Communication and Services Centre in West Bengal, has captured Indigenous Traditional Knowledge in agriculture and the livelihood sector including ‘Grain Bank’, ‘Seed Bank’, integrated farming, land shaping in water logged areas, use of uncultivated food and mixed cropping.
  • Terralingua through a project called Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge (VITEK) that includes a methodology for collecting and analyzing data leading to the creation of a locally-appropriate, globally-applicable indicator focused on trends of retention or loss of TEK over time is compiling traditional knowledge.
  • WWF India has used the “Climate Witness” approach to capture traditional knowledge and experiences from Ladakh and Sunderbans in form of publications. A film in local language Ladakhi (as well as English) titled ‘Living with Change’ has also been prepared.
  • Studies by researchers at Sikkim Manipal Institute of Technology, Sikkim highlight the traditional knowledge of Lepcha community that could help in DRR and CCA. For example, according to a folktale Utis trees grow in landslide prone areas, techniques to convert toxic plants products to edible products could help survival during disasters.
  • Traditional knowledge related to plant and animal varieties that can cope with adverse environmental conditions, rain water harvesting structures, ‘quanats’ or underground dykes and tunnels for transfer of sub-surface water by gravity to the surface have been highlighted as potential CCA measures in the Bundelkhand region and also in Rajasthan by researchers at National Institute of Disaster Management, New Delhi.
  • A study supported by International Labour Organization (ILO) in Durgapur, West Bengal and Mayurbhanj, Orissa found that communities planted short duration crops like minor millets, stored dry fish and collected seeds from forests to cope with droughts.
  • Transfer of knowledge could be facilitated between communities directly. For example communities living in the India-Bangladesh border region of Nadia & Murshidabad districts in West Bengal have adopted the housing designs & tube well raising techniques used by communities living in flood-prone areas of Bangladesh.
  • A tribal community living in a flood prone area, in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu had constituted small groups of youth to monitor the level of the rising water in the river with notches on a stick. Mechanism of tying ropes across the river to cross them, collection of money per month per family for providing support during floods was highlighted.
  • During 1991 earthquake in Uttarkashi in Uttarakhand, families living in traditional houses mostly survived. Therefore it is important to capture traditional construction knowledge and integrate them with the present modern practices.
  • The various spheres of local knowledge with respect to monsoon prediction in India have been captured successfully in a paper titled “A Societal Knowledge Management System: Harnessing Indigenous Wisdom to Build Sustainable Predictors for Adaptation to Climate Change
  • The Misings community of the Brahmaputra River Basin builds raised houses and earthen mounds to protect themselves during severe floods. Community members become fishermen during flood seasons and become farmers during the Rabi season as a climate change adaptation strategy.
  • The national policy on disaster management of the Government of India has devoted a separate section on knowledge management and highlights the importance of indigenous traditional knowledge.
  • Participatory communication that aims to facilitate the expression of people’s needs and priorities through effective communication processes was highlighted to capture the traditional knowledge of communities by involving all major stakeholders. It is also imperative to publicize regular messages through print and electronic media and utilize network of research institutions, universities, colleges etc. in order to capture the traditional knowledge for effective implementation of DRR and CCA programmes.

Source: Disaster and Climate Change community at UN Solution

Download Full Response: Traditional DRR and Climate Change Adaptation


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