Indigenous Knowledge and Disaster Risk Reduction.
Rajib Shaw, Kyoto University, Kyoto (Japan)
Yukiko Takeuchi, Kyoto University, Kyoto (Japan)
Noralene Uy, Kyoto University, Kyoto (Japan)
Anshu Sharma, SEEDS, New Delhi (India)
Rajib Shaw, Yukiko Takeuchi, Noralene Uy, Anshu Sharma, Indigenous Knowledge for Disaster Risk Reduction. Policy Note, paper discussed at the International Workshop in Kyoto in July 2008.
Shaw R., Sharma A. and Takeuchi Y., Indigenous Knowledge and Disaster Risk Reduction: From Practice to Policy, NOVA Publication, USA, 2009.
Applied Participatory Approaches:
- Mainstreaming Indigenous Knowledge
Research on the phenomena of disasters in the Asia-Pacific region over the past decades has resulted in a wealth of knowledge on the strong link between environment and disasters, and between human practices and the environment. Human practices that evolved over centuries have been tested by time and proven to be sustainable and effective in both reducing disasters and managing unavoidable hazards.
Anthropological research of many traditional communities of the Asia and the Pacific have documented a wealth of indigenous knowledge that are passed down from generations and are internalized by the communities through a process of socialization and are part of their life styles. Humanitarian practice in the region by various organizations working in the area of disaster reduction and response has revealed a multitude of undocumented and overlooked practices in many indigenous communities. These practices exhibit a deep understanding and ability to cope with disasters through local actions. There is a growing realization that such practices must be acknowledged and will form the basis for a holistic approach to disaster reduction that links indigenous knowledge with modern technologies.
This article aims to provide a directional path for mainstreaming Indigenous Knowledge in Disaster Risk Reduction by national authorities and ministries of disaster management, ministries of education, institutions of higher education in disaster management, and international and national NGOs in Asian countries.
Indigenous Knowledge in Disaster Risk Reduction
The understanding on disaster risk reduction has improved significantly since the early nineties, with prime landmarks for the movement being the Yokohama Strategy and the subsequent Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA).
Even if there is compelling evidence that Indigenous Knowledge has the potential to provide solutions for reducing disasters at many levels, its recognition and incorporation in Disaster Risk Reduction efforts has been dismally insufficient.
Recognized in a scientific approach, such knowledge unravels a vast domain of approaches and tools that can be applied in the current context with appropriate adaptation and adjustments. However the approach of balancing modern technology and indigenous knowledge has to be taken up with adequate caution. There is a need to recognize the good knowledge assets that already exist in local communities, and at the same time there is wisdom in adopting and benefiting from the advances that current science offers us. There is no defined line of equilibrium between the two. It is a transitional domain, which has to be worked with in a highly contextual manner that delivers benefits without undermining related assets. The core issue, besides finding solutions to physical and economic dimensions of Disaster Risk Reduction, is one of avoiding cultural invasion that so often comes as part of the package with technologically advanced disaster management solutions.
The holistic approach advocated by the HFA, and increasingly becoming the way forward for nations faced with recurrent disasters, is a resource intensive process. The costs being incurred in disaster reduction efforts are increasing, and yet failing to have a desirable level of impact. Furthermore, the societies worst afflicted by recurrent and large-scale disasters are from the underdeveloped or transitional economic groups, thereby making such investments more burdensome. Reliance on a balanced system
of indigenous knowledge and technological applications presents itself as a viable option in the face of financial concerns of disaster reduction works, with Indigenous Knowledge offering a very cost effective approach to Disaster Risk Reduction.
Efforts have been made in very recent times to identify and document Indigenous Knowledge based Disaster Risk Reduction practices from the region. The UNISDR publication ‘Indigenous Knowledge Good Practices and lessons Learned from Experiences in the Asia-Pacific Region 2008’ brings together a collection of Indigenous Knowledge based Disaster Risk Reduction practices from communities across the region. It also identifies the usefulness of integrating Indigenous Knowledge with modern technology to create appropriate solutions
Mainstreaming Indigenous Knowledge in Disaster Risk Reduction: an Action Agenda
A further promotion of Indigenous Knowledge for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Asia Pacific needs to include engagement with policy makers, making a clear commitment to the issue, developing a framework for specific actions, and assigning responsibilities.
The processes for documenting, validating, educating, advocating, and continued working need to be spelt out. The foremost step that needs to be taken is to identify the roles of different stakeholders based on strengths and weakness of different organizations, institutions and groups.
The creation of a database of Indigenous Knowledge practices, their analysis and subsequent recognition of practices with positive as well as negative consequences needs to be done before dissemination, education and advocacy work can be taken up.
Seven main issues have emerged as cross-sectors to the effective mainstreaming of Indigenous Knowledge in Disaster Risk Reduction work:
1: Establishment of Resource Group
The work done thus far must be consolidated and moved forward. A Regional Resource Group may be established for pursuing the agenda, and identifying and linking various community resource groups with an aim of establishing further linkages.
2: Documentation and Research
There is a need for cataloguing and documenting Indigenous Knowledge in Disaster Risk Reduction and developing contextual guidelines based on Indigenous Knowledge for disaster prone areas. Validation must happen through communities as well as current science. This can be done through action research and demonstration that this knowledge works, grounded in the fact that it has been sustainable and successful. Advantages of improvement and adaptation of this knowledge must be demonstrated and highlighted.
This can be done by using databases of Indigenous Knowledge for curriculum creation, both for formal and informal education. Then, based on evidence of success, the knowledge can be appropriately adapted and transferred through the education system. Inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge must be promoted and mainstreamed in disaster, environment and development education.
4: Policy Advocacy
Those supporting and recognizing the values of Indigenous Knowledge must engage in a regional policy discussion. The body of promoters of Indigenous Knowledge should subsequently engage with a wider spectrum of regional and national stakeholders for integration of Indigenous Knowledge in Disaster Risk Reduction, disaster management and developmental sectors under the umbrella of sustainable development.
5: Enabling Environment
There is a need to create an environment that cuts across the techno-legal, socioeconomic as well as cultural regimes. A wide policy engagement will pave the initial way for this, but it must be followed up with a multi-pronged approach that can include influencing current areas of work that have a potential for incorporating and promoting Indigenous Knowledge: these can include initiatives such as DRH-Asia, various school safety initiatives, various tsunami rehabilitation and risk reduction initiatives, HFA and DESD program etc.
6: Change Agents
Agents for change must be identified at both the policy level, i.e. the right legislators and administrators, and the community level, i.e. the right local leaders and influential citizens.
7: Special Focus Areas
Several specific focus areas can help to guide policy initiative on Indigenous Knowledge for Disaster Risk Reduction so that it becomes comprehensive, appropriate and appealing. These can include gender, urban risk, climate change adaptation and food security.