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OPINION: Predicting Climate Change – Traditional Early Warning Signals

Catherine Roween C. Almaden, Executive Assistant to the Academic Vice-President at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, discusses how ancient ways of predicting climate change can be utilised in the challenges the Philippines faces today.

The theme of the International Day for Disaster Reduction, celebrated on 13 October 2015, was ‘Knowledge for Life’. The focus for the coming year will be on ‘Traditional, Indigenous and Local Knowledge’; how it complements modern science and adds to an individual’s and societies’ view on resilience. But how do those insights relate to a second tier city such as Cagayan de Oro City in the Philippines?

On 24 September 2015, Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, in partnership with the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC) and Germanwatch and support from CDKN, organised a stakeholder workshop in the city of Cagayan de Oro. 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) Organisation representatives and civic organisation 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. They already play a major role among constituencies in the hinterlands, both for lumads[1] and other IPs; a number of participants admitted to using these IKS indicators as a means of forecasting when monitoring weather conditions! But what do those IKS indicators look like?

Very typical indicators to look for are the colour of the sky, the air temperature, the behaviour of domesticated animals and the presence of insects that are said to indicate a coming natural disturbance.  It is very obvious that the signs of nature and animals and the meanings and interpretations they provide can directly help prepare for, prevent and mitigate the impacts climate change in their immediate surroundings.

Very little of this knowledge has been recorded, and yet it represents an immensely valuable set of data on how these communities have interacted with their changing environment. However, IKS is becoming less relevant due to disregard by urban dwellers. Lumads feel urban residents are quick to dismiss indigenous knowledge as inferior and insignificant, with a general tendency to ignore, if not look down, on hinterland dwellers.

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

[1] The Lumad peoples are a group of indigenous people living on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao.


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