Go to Top

Traditional Early Warning Signals

by: Catherine Roween Almaden for iCSC

International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) was celebrated last October 13, 2015 with the theme: “Knowledge for Life”. The focus this year is on the traditional, indigenous and local knowledge which complement modern science and add to an individual’s and societies’ resilience. Let us look at how this insight remains to be relevant in a second tier city such as Cagayan de Oro City in the Philippines.

A workshop organized by Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan in partnership with the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) together with its international partner the German Watch was organized last September 24, 2015. The aim was to determine specific climate change adaptation and mitigation needs of the city. Invited participants included academics, businessmen, consultants, NGO representatives, Indigenous People’s (IPs) Organization representatives and civic organization leaders.

In one of the sessions, participants identified Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) as a primary means to predict climate change risks and vulnerability of communities in the city. As a means of forecasting, a number of participants use these indicators identified by IKS in the monitoring of weather conditions. In fact, it still play a key role among constituencies in the hinterlands both “lumads” and IPs. Examples of which includes assessing the color of the sky, the temperature of the air, the behavior of domesticated animals and the presence of insects that are said to indicate a coming natural disturbance.  The signs in nature and animals and the meanings and interpretations they provide would help them in preparing, preventing and mitigating the effects of such disturbances.

The IKS does not only serve as an early warning system but strengthen community support to cope in various natural disturbances. It also helps combat outbreaks of diseases. During dengue fever outbreaks, the lumads use different medicinal plants such as tawa-tawa, sinaw-sinaw, atay-atay, hilbas and other common plants in their areas. The knowledge and skills on the curative application of any of the given herbal medicines has been handed down from generation to generation.

Even in biodiversity conservation, their IKS has taught them the primary role of certain trees in nature. For instance, bamboos should be planted along the river banks but not inside the forests. They say, there are certain types of trees such as the balite tree that should remain in the forests so as to sustain biodiversity. The indigenous knowledge also guide in the decision-making regarding farming practices.

Very little of this knowledge has been recorded, and yet it represents an immensely valuable data on how these communities have interacted with their changing environment. However, IKS is becoming less relevant due to disregard by urban dwellers.  Lumads sometimes feel they are quick to dismiss indigenous knowledge as inferior and insignificant. There is a general tendency to ignore if not look down on hinterland dwellers that is manifest in the language where the term “taga-bukid” (from the mountains) is used to mean someone ignorant.

In many instances, local disaster risk reduction strategies have failed due to their inability to fit the people’s context. Perhaps, by combining traditional knowledge and broader science, such problems that deal with the effects of climate change may be addressed more effectively.


Editor’s Note: This is the first of many blogs from Prof. Cathy Almaden and colleagues from Xavier University under the Climate-Compatible Cities (CCD) research project of iCSC in Cagayan de Oro. The CCD project is part of an initiative involving iCSC’s partners in India and Indonesia, led by Germanwatch through the support of CDKN.

The featured image shows a plate with different rice varities, this is usually used during harvest (Panggoting) rituals. This photo is taken by J.C. Salon,  Laboratory Assistant, Xavier University Museum : Museo de Oro.