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  • Lamlela Plaatjie (South Africa)

Shifting from crisis management to risk management using indigenous knowledge

Indigenous groups have coexisted in harmony with nature, developing spiritual, emotional, and mutualistic relationships with it. Their reverence for the natural and ecological environment has led to cultivating ancient knowledge systems over generations. An intuitive understanding of the natural world enabled them to maintain balanced consumption and sustainable use of natural resources. Traditional cultures around the world have deep connections to the planet and its natural rhythms which have been changing rapidly in recent times. Viewing indigenous people as sources of valuable insights on climate risk management could provide an alternative perspective to sustainable conservation. Native cultures in Latin America are acknowledged through legal protections. For instance, Mother Nature is recognized as a being with constitutional rights in Bolivia and Ecuador. In New Zealand, it is common practice for governments to partner with indigenous tribes for environmental restoration projects following natural disasters. Traditional knowledge is also used to inform national risk management plans, an example is the Maori people’s use of indigenous indicators such as volcanic activity and changes in fauna behavior to predict weather conditions.

Indigenous interventions can be applied across varied challenges and risks including environmental conservation; natural disaster management; regional planning; poverty alleviation and traditional medicine practices. The alignment between indigenous interventions and nature averts negative impacts on the environment. Climate change imposes an immediate and direct threat to the agriculture sector and food security. In Asia, extreme weather conditions have existed over centuries but rapid climate change has exposed the region to harsher risks. Some areas in Nepal and Tibet have relied on traditional flood mitigation strategies by cultivating flood-resilient crops and traditional drainage systems; locally-based Early Warning Systems (EWS) use environmental indicators to predict imminent floods. EWS allows local communities to be proactive in their responses to impending crises, actions like timely evacuations; relocating livestock; stockpiling essential resources. During dry seasons in the Middle East, indigenous drylands management practices use rational grazing as a measure to adapt to unpredictable rainfall. Wildfire management in Australia has also sought out cultural burning practices as an environmental conservation strategy to mitigate the intensity and frequency of wildfires.

Perhaps optimizing risk management involves a hybrid approach of combining indigenous knowledge and contemporary technologies. The civil protection-science collaboration in Italy is an easily adaptable and replicable intervention that allowed civil servants with formidable expertise in research and public administration to be recognized by the scientific community as “hybrid experts”, contributing to decision-making during times of disaster- based on Legislative Decree 1/2018, the Civil Protection code regulates the National Civil Protection Service. This type of flexible approach to governance can be adapted to include traditional experts in strategic risk management. The protection of cultural and indigenous heritage is essential for maintaining knowledge transfers with the contemporary world. A hybrid approach of merging cultural and modern perspectives is intended to enhance decision-making, making it a holistic and transdisciplinary effort. Disasters pose a threat to human lives, socioeconomic stability, and the collapse of biospheres. Shifting from crisis management to risk management requires the transformation of governance systems in order to create an enabling environment for innovative risk mitigation strategies.

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