‘Merge science, local knowledge in disaster preparedness’

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/21 May)– People will be more safer and resilient if science and local knowledge and wisdom on risk resilience and adaptation will be fused, Fr. Pedro Walpole, SJ, coordinator for Reconciliation with Creation of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific, said at the first plenary session of an international conference here from May 21-23.

Walpole, also the executive director of the Institute of Environmental Social Science Research (ESSC), the conference organizer, said people’s knowledge and wisdom on disasters “can mean a lot but nobody has been talking to them and using what they know.”

“Often we forget about it … urban and rural lives are disconnected. We are not using local knowledge,” he added.

Walpole spoke on “Local Wisdom, Risk Resilience and Adaptation” on the first day of the Conference on Transformative Land and Water Governance, which is described as “a collaborative engagement towards transformative research and governance for sustainable human development.”

About 20 other parallel sessions were scheduled in the three-day conference, including those from Maydolong, Eastern Samar Mayor Henry Afable on Local Government Disaster Management and Responses: From Preparedness to Recovery; a presentation from Xavier University’s Guadalupe Calalang on “A regional soil reference system for fertility assessment and monitoring for highland soils in Mindanao;” and that of ESSC’s Joseph Labrador on “A method of village-level disaster risk assessment: empowering communities towards resilience building.”

Walpole said Cagayan de Oro’s experience with Sendong, Compostela Valley’s experience with Pablo, and Tacloban’s experience with Yolanda “showed what happened if local knowledge and wisdom are not used.”

He cited that the calamities that wreaked havoc on those places did not happen for the first time there, noting that storm surges happened in Tacloban long before as well as the debris flow in Compostela Valley.

Walpole said knowledge on science must be built with local knowledge, as some of them “have very good foundations.”

He cited that tribal leaders and elders in Bendum, Malaybalay City, where he lives with the Pulangiyen tribe, can share their practices in previous typhoons that passed their area decades ago.

In the area, he said, nobody died or was hurt as a result of typhoons Sendong and Pablo because as a practice, “nobody lives or puts their animals along the river.”

Referring to inputs from another study presented in the conference, Walpole said that if local knowledge of indigenous peoples on forest management, for example, is limited, it can still be developed later on.

“If they are allowed to use their language and their wisdom, then they can think of even more,” he added.

But Walpole stressed that those working to get local knowledge must treat people with integrity.

“They must participate in the process. People have knowledge of their own. You can’t go back to them and tell them this and that,” he said.

Walpole said knowledge from people who speak Pulangiyen and other local dialects are as important as those who speak French, German, Italian and English, among others, referring to the languages spoken by participants in the conference.

“They are as important because of their wisdom of their areas,” he added.

According to its briefer, the conference “seeks to bring out diverse responses to the growing environmental and socio-political concerns in the region, and not just with one response that fits all.”

“It seeks to present a “fit-for-purpose” framework or strategy for research and planning development by bringing in people who use interdisciplinary scientific approaches to address urgent local and national challenges,” the briefer said.

The conference is focused on sustainability science, local wisdom, risk resilience and adaptation, and youth and values formation.

“Though this conference we seek to develop more critical understanding about transformative land and water governance generated through knowledge and experiences shared from Mindanao and other areas,” the briefer said.

According to the conference rationale, “the search for (societal) transformation entails finding a language that can be understood in a diversity of life situations to encourage dialogue on values and bring out the wisdom from local contexts to address global challenges”. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)