Flood Resilience Portal
By Robert Šakić Trogrlić
Nowadays, it is difficult to imagine any ‘serious’ conversation on disaster risk reduction (DRR) that doesn’t emphasise the importance of local communities, their participation and their local knowledge. Global policies, including the Sendai Framework and Paris Agreement, clearly point out that local knowledge has a role to play in reducing risks and adapting to change. But how is this global rhetoric translated into practical approaches on the ground?
Over the years, people in the Lower Shire Valley have developed a complex knowledge system which cuts across different stages of flood risk management. Members of local communities observe flora and fauna to forecast flooding, develop flood-resilient construction practices, and rely on their social networks and community leaders in times of floods. Most importantly, their knowledge is hybrid, continuously evolving as new layers of understanding are added through continuous experiences of floods, global environmental change, and exposure to ‘modern’ approaches and new technologies brought about by development partners.
The answer is not straightforward. The current setup and practice of community-based flood risk management faces a number of challenges, including problems with funding, governance, sustainability of implemented interventions and limited community participation. This has direct implications on the inclusion of local knowledge. For instance, I found that community-based flood risk management in Malawi often reflects donor funding priorities rather than local needs. These projects are also often short-term and have limited funding. Community participation often becomes merely a box-ticking exercise, failing to facilitate the inclusion of diverse groups and knowledge within a community and failing to account for the inherent heterogeneity within a community.
During my fieldwork I repeatedly found that the best way to boost the role of local knowledge is through its integration with scientific knowledge. Yet, integration is rarely achieved in practice, and what the process would look like is often unclear to practitioners. On the other hand, this integration is not confusing to communities. They are constantly involved in an informal integration process between what is known locally and what is coming from the ‘outside’. For instance, they triangulate their environmental early warning indicators and the official warning information, ultimately making a decision on whether and what action to take.
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