As disaster intensity has increased across the world, the number of people affected by them also has swelled. The way to deal with these unprecedented weather events also has to change, to be better prepared to deal with the changing face of disasters and to be able to withstand nature’s mercurial tantrums positively.

If we want our villages to be resilient in the face of weather extremities that they are bound to face in the future, we must strive for a local perspective and specific solutions to deal with them. A national level disaster management plan for the country will fail miserably if implemented per se at the village level, without keeping the local dynamics in mind. It is the people or the society who are the first responder and also the most affected when disaster strikes. Their inputs and local knowledge is thus essential to make a disaster plan truly resilient and effective.

The local information or traditional knowledge (ITK) collected can be divided into two parts:

  • Weather related information: The knowledge that has been passed down to generations, having withstood the vagaries of time. A lot of experience lies behind these words. For example, people believe that if ants are seen carrying their eggs and moving upwards, it is a sign of coming floods, and so they prepare accordingly. On the other hand if birds are observed bathing in mud, it is a signal of impending drought, and this helps them to switch to crops that require less water, well in time.
  • Local resources knowledge: Information on the traditional ways of dealing with floods and droughts, especially in agriculture.

These nuggets of knowledge are time tested and are passed down from one generation to another, after their efficacy has been warranted and experienced. This is more true in the case of small, marginal farmers and also women farmers, who are affected more severely by disasters.

These are not to be confused with simple statements, as Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) has ably proved with the numerous examples they have witnessed. Having worked with small, marginal farmers in Uttar Pradesh, they have paid special attention to any such activities, work or actions, that have helped reduce the impact of disasters to the people in this area. The farmers here have used this traditional knowledge to safeguard their livestock, lands, crops and themselves. Not only this, they have also reduced their inputs and increased their profits, utilising this inherent information.

Both the drought ridden and the flood hit farmer has fallen back on these informative knowledge, to be better prepared for the impending disaster. What GEAG did was simply make this existing knowledge available to people on a larger scale.

There was a time when farming followed the proverbs and sayings of the great poet Ghagh. Alas, this is no longer true. The sayings stand firm even today, also when viewed through a modern or scientific lens. ‘When you breathe out steam, then is the time to sow wheat.’ Behind this simple statement lies the underlying science of adequate temperature conditions needed for wheat sowing. This is done in the season when temperatures drop and it becomes cold, hence the hint towards steam from the mouth.

All these examples suggest that to save this indigenous knowledge from getting lost, the support of the community, government and individual, all three levels is essential. The community must ensure that this lost knowledge is gathered carefully, while it is the governments responsibility to disseminate this information as widely as possible. The individuals’ responsibility is to make an effort that this knowledge and the activities connected to it are inculcated in policies so that they become an integral part of the disaster risk reduction strategies.

The authors of the article Archana Srivastava & Ravi Prakash Mishra are team members, Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG).

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