Thursday, January 13, 2011

Preparing for storms on Pacific islands

Nic Maclellan in Islands Business (Fiji): Living from the land and ocean requires keen observation of nature and changes in weather and climate. But at a time when climate change may increase the frequency or intensity of natural disasters, can this local knowledge be used to better protect Pacific communities from storms, cyclones and other hazards?

On November 30, the Australian Red Cross launched a report on “Traditional knowledge and Red Cross disaster preparedness in the Pacific.” It’s one of a number of regional initiatives to combine scientific research with the ecological knowledge of local communities to improve disaster preparedness and environmental monitoring.

The report argues that existing skills and knowledge of Pacific communities—who are able to respond immediately after disasters before outside help arrives—have not been given sufficient recognition by many aid donors. According to Rebecca McNaught, senior programme officer for the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, “combining both western and indigenous scientific knowledge in disaster preparedness could enable communities to better survive disasters like cyclones and floods.”

This traditional knowledge often comes from people’s observations of their land over generations. Some knowledge is known only to a few elders, like the capacity to monitor wind or predict weather patterns by bird movements, the early ripening of fruit or blossoming of flowers. Other useful knowledge is more widespread in the community, based on common information about water supply, transport, food storage and available shelter….

Bay of Liku (Likuliku), Waya Island of the Yasawa Islands, Fiji. Shot by Evanwil, who has released the image into the public domain

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