Indigenous Know-how Needed in Climate Adaptation Planning

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Indigenous Know-how Needed in Climate Adaptation Planning

For centuries the indigenous people have adapted and coped with environmental challenges and extreme events.

However, their knowledge is often overlooked in favour of western scientific solutions such as constructing complex engineering adaption works like seawalls and other coastal defences or implementing managed retreats in disaster-prone areas.

However, the Indigenous attachment to the land, their well-established social networks and their sense of identity tied to their location make these prescriptive solutions hard to accept by the indigenous communities.

The article in Eco-Business shows how Vanuatu people used indigenous knowledge to scan nature for signs of impending storms or cyclones or to predict abnormal dry periods. Identifying these signs from the sky, wildlife, and plants gives them sufficient time to prepare for these extreme events.

For example, they would scan the skies if a local bird, Mansiroboe, would seek shelter on the island. Subtle changes in plants like early blossoms or fruiting, fast-moving slow clouds, calm sea, and surface winds – these signs tell them that there is an impending storm or cyclone.

Locals would then store clean water and gather firewood and food. Put weights on their roofs to ensure that strong winds and rains won’t sweep them away, and protect their crops – trim excess foliage to prevent damage. Some locals also designed their houses to make them more resilient to cyclones. These traditional houses are called ‘gamali’ and are built in sheltered areas from forest materials. Its thatched roofs extend to the ground, so strong winds do not quickly sweep it away.

This type of housing contrasts with modern houses built with corrugated iron sheet roofs, which can quickly fly off in high winds. Rebuilding is more expensive as materials often come from outside of the island.

The article says that in the last twenty years, many studies have highlighted using Pacific communities’ indigenous knowledge to reduce their vulnerability to natural hazards and extreme events.’s “The Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Climate Change Adaptation In Bangladesh and the Philippines” presents two case studies of indigenous adaptation practices in Bangladesh and the Philippines to cope with sea-level rise and flooding. Below are excerpts from the article:

  • Nazirpur Municipality in south Bangladesh is home to around 20,000 Indigenous people reliant on farming for their livelihood. As a delta and low-lying region, the sea-level rise has bought frequent flooding. In some areas, high tides would submerge areas of land that many years ago was used by residents to play football.
  • Sea-level rise has made flooding and storms more severe, destroying their crops, but residents refuse to leave the area and opt to adapt their farming practices instead. Indigenous communities have been applying floating farms for at least two centuries, and the technique helps Nazipur’s farmers cope with floods.
  • “Floating farms consist of boats holding and elevating seeds or crops above ground. These boats either float or sink according to the sea level change over time, ensuring the proper functioning of farming despite prolonged or occasional floods.”
  • In the Philippines, the town of Tubigon, located on the west coast of Bohol, includes many outlying islands home to around 45,000 people. The 2013 7.2 magnitude earthquake caused a vertical land movement in three of its islands. The earthquake-induced land subsidence subjected residents to daily flooding brought by high tides.
  • Instead of relocating, the people raised the floor level and some constructed stilt houses. They adjusted their practices and behaviours to suit their altered environment so that they could remain in the area.
  • With extreme events projected to increase in frequency and severity, the only question is, will these climate adaptation strategies be enough or sustainable in the long term, and will they have enough resources to address future hazards and risks?

Indigenous people’s attachment to the land, due to their social networks and the sense of identity, are why they refuse to leave, despite the explicit threats they face.

According to the articles, climate adaptation plans should include indigenous knowledge and practices. The indigenous communities should be given the support they need to cope with the changing climate and protect their rights.

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