Traditional knowledge key to climate change adaptation

Traditional knowledge used by indigenous people to predict disasters and mitigate its impact should be adopted in large scale adaptation efforts, says a climate change postgraduate student at The University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji.

The student, Jovesa Tagivakatini, said traditional knowledge was “a credible avenue which government and authorities can use as a disaster risk reduction tool in awareness programs”.

Mr Tagivakatini said any source of knowledge to fight climate change was valuable.

He said the recovery after severe Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2017 was quick for villagers in Yasawa as they used their knowledge of making a davuke or dug pit - a traditional Fijian method of food staple preservation by fermentation in a pit to sustain them until aid arrived.

In another case study in Yasawa, Mr Tagivakatini said villagers were able to prepare well in advance for a cyclone based on signs and the knowledge of changing climatic conditions.

“The villagers once found turtle eggs on the beach and the village elders said that it was a sign of bad weather. The villagers took the warning seriously and prepared well for that disaster, Cyclone Bebe, which hit Fiji in the 1970s.”

The National Disaster Management Office said it was already applying traditional knowledge in its resilience strategies.

The department’s acting director, Sunia Ratulevu, said people in remote communities understood the change in climate and were adapting quite well.

“We have integrated traditional knowledge in our disaster risk reduction training programs to mitigate impacts of natural disasters,” he said.

An example of traditional knowledge is the observation of silktail birds.

“It is true that when a silktail bird flies low towards mainland it symbolises a cyclone approaching,” said USP Adjunct Associate Professor Dr Paul Geraghty.

“I saw this once in Suva and a cyclone did hit Fiji.”

In December 2018 renewable energy was a key focus of discussion at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP 24) in Katowice, Poland. During a side event titled Solar Head of State, discussions around renewable energy focused on clean, healthy and affordable energy for developing countries such as Fiji.

The side event was a partnership between the Government of India and the Pacific Islands Development Forum. Speaking at the side event, PIDF Secretary General Francois Martel said Pacific leaders were “walking the talk” literally by moving towards solar and renewable energy use in the region.

· This climate change reporting exercise overseen by the USP Journalism Programme is part of the Pacific iCLIM Project - Phase 2. It involves four student journalists from USP and Griffith University. The Pacific iCLIM Project is a partnership project between Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and Griffith University, funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The Project aims to enable better climate change resilience and adaptation planning in the Pacific by improving the discoverability, storage, access, and utilisation of climate change data and information.

·  Epeli Lalagavesi is a 21-year-old second-year journalism student at The University of the South Pacific, Suva. He is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in journalism and linguistics at USP’s Laucala campus.