Coping with Climate Change: Adapting old strategies to face new challenges
The knowledge and practices that small-island, indigenous and other vulnerable communities have accumulated to cope with past environmental unpredictability are a powerful resource for confronting global climate change. They serve as a springboard for community-level adaptation, bring recognition to local resilience and bolster community self-confidence. How is your community facing up to the challenge of climate change impacts?
As extreme climatic events are expected to increase in frequency and intensity, traditional skills for disaster risk reduction deserve recognition. Dawn Tuiloma-Palesoo from Fiji (South Pacific) recalls: One of the ingredients that made our forefathers more resilient to disasters was the fact that they were prepared. If you look at traditional houses in Pacific islands today, which no longer exist in many communities by the way, you will notice that they were built with local materials and in some instances were specifically built so as not to withstand disasters. Why? This is so that houses could easily be rebuilt after the disaster. In some communities, the poles of traditional houses were collapsed before a cyclone, and reinstalled after the cyclone. With regard to food, when planting food crops, there was always a patch reserved for emergencies. We still hear the words 'hurricane food' which are foods cooked and prepared in a certain way that makes them last longer. These foods were to sustain a family or community after a disaster. Is this still being practiced?
Andean communities are taking measures to accommodate increasingly unpredictable patterns of rainfall and frost: When the clouds gather around the summit of Mount Ausangate, we are happy and we make an offering to it of coca leaves, explains Maximo Crispín Mandura, a peasant member of the farming community Ausangate, Cusco (Peru, South America). We thank the mountain for once again blanketing itself with snow. Mount Ausangate stores the water we need from June to November, during the planting season. Before, it used to begin raining in October. These days it starts in December. This does not give the potatoes or ocas (Oxalis tuberosa) enough time to ripen. We are building an irrigation canal and are praying that our protector, Ausangate, remains covered with snow. Hercolina Cruz, a farmer from the San Antonio farming community, Caracoto, Puno (Peru), explains that the frost comes whenever, without warning. Before, we knew when they would come and had time to light the manure in the fields. Today, we have to keep watch during the nights so it does not sneak up on us and surprise us. We store the best grain, the strong and the healthy ones to use as seed. If, in the cold, they mature into strong grain, then great indeed will their offspring be. My neighbour has already started planting trees around her fields. She is using them to fight the frost, but won’t the birds harvest the quinoa faster than we do?
The Inuvialuit people of Sachs Harbour in Canada’s western Arctic (North America) are adapting hunting patterns and travel routes to a changing environment: In response to shorter, warmer springs and increased rates of snow and ice melt, people say that they do not go out on the land in the spring for as long as they used to. They return to the community after the goose hunt, rather than proceeding to lakes to ice fish. Waiting is a coping strategy; people wait for the geese to arrive, for the land to dry, for the weather to improve, or for the rain to end. More bare ground and unreliable snow conditions mean that families are travelling along the coastal sea ice rather than along inland routes. Permafrost thaw in many areas has forced travellers to make new trails and routes to avoid slumps, mudslides, and erosion. Community members describe using all-terrain vehicles instead of snowmobiles to travel to spring camps when there is not enough snow. They also describe hunting seals from boats in the open water, an adjustment necessitated by the lack of ice floes, where the seals normally spend the summer months.
How has your community coped with environmental changes in the past? What efforts are being made to adapt to emerging impacts from climate change?
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We thank the following sources:
Dawn Tuiloma-Palesoo (Small Islands Voice global forum 16 November 2004) http://www.sivglobal.org/?read=82
Andean testimonies, from the photo exhibition El clima cambia, mi vida también, organised in Lima (1st to 31st May 2008) by the GTZ, DED, SPDA and CONAM. http://www.elclimacambia.pe
Berkes, F. and D. Jolly. 2001. Adapting to climate change: social-ecological resilience in a Canadian western Arctic community. Conservation Ecology 5(2): 18. http://www.consecol.org/vol5/iss2/art18/
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