Diakonia - People change the world
Cattle hearding in the Karamoja region in northeasthern Uganda.

The new normal

The effects of climate change calls for new ways of thinking and new strategies. For how can you prepare for something you’ve never heard of or never experienced?  Diakonia’s adviser on Disaster Risk Reduction, Mina Jhowry, talks about “the new normal” and the need to merge traditional and modern knowledge on climate change.


Expect the unexpected

– As risk patterns change along with the effects of climate change, local communities and other can no longer only rely on past experiences, they increasingly need to adapt to “the new normal” and expect the unexpected, says Mina Jhowry.

Mina Jhowry mentions the Typhoon Yolanda that hit the Philippines in November 2013 as an example.  She explains that some people thought it was just an unusual strong typhoon; others had heard the warning about a storm surge but did not understand that it could act like a tidal wave or tsunami and at such height and strength; they thought they would be safe if they stayed in their concrete houses.                  

– Few people in the affected areas in the Philippines knew the full extent of the term ”storm surge”. A fact that cost many unnecessary lives.

The effects of climate change are hitting the hardest those who have contributed to emissions of greenhouse gases the least – the world's poor. Diakonia wants to see the burden of reducing emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change being shared fairly. The poor should not be footing the bill for the industrialization of rich countries.

Disaster preparedness becomes more important

Disasters cannot be addressed only as an emergency. In view of climate change effects, it is becoming more and more important to work with disaster preparedness and prevention by building awareness on changing weather patterns, informing about its potential consequences and to pick up on new methods and knowledge to adapt to new realities.

– Of particular interest, I think, are traditional methods for weather forecasting: Are these methods reliable today? Can we still trust “old knowledge”? Asks Mina Jhowry rhetorically.

Typhoon Haiyan, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Yolanda, was one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever recorded, which devastated portions of Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, on November 8, 2013. It is the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record, killing at least 6,300 people in that country alone. Haiyan is also the strongest storm recorded at landfall, and the strongest typhoon ever recorded in terms of one-minute sustained wind speed.

Preserving indigenous knowledge

Annabel Ogwang, Diakonia's country manager in Uganda says culture can be helpful in understanding early warning signs that show the risk of a disaster about to happen. She thinks it is critical that DRR programming integrates traditional weather forecast and scientific weather forecast - especially in African rural areas where there is no access to meteorological services or they aren’t developed enough to provide qualitative and reliable information.

– Investment in developing and preserving the indigenous knowledge on disaster preparedness is fundamental. In Karamoja Region, Uganda, when there are any termites it is a sign of heavy rains and people begin preparing to manage flash floods. In Teso region, when there is a bumper harvest of mangos, it indicates poor crop harvest, thus people begin to prepare for hard moments, says Annabel Ogwang.

But she also points out that culture can make people vulnerable to disaster.

– When it rains in certain periods of the year other than the designated season, our culture forbids people from cultivating and since Karamoja traditionally has only one planting season per year, you'll find that people miss the only season because they expect rain in particular months. It is therefore a reason for constant famine and hunger in Karamoja region. Of recent the rains have not been coming at the traditionally designated months and we let it waste, she says.

Adaptation is essential

To address the above issues, engagement of cultural leaders to demystify climate realities and also encouragement of indigenous people to take advantage of the “new” rain seasons is important. This can be used as learning points for other communities.

– For instance In Kotido District in the Karamoja Region, this method has worked, for the Jie people, any rain that comes is utilized and as a result they have not suffered famine. In 2007 the Jie people were accessing sorghum from other districts in Karamoja. But in 2014, Kotido supplies the rest of Karamoja.

Culture evolves overtime especially when confronted with difficult realities arising from contextual changes.

– In this case, exchange visits are also good but how to take the change to the individual household still remains a challenge. People usually like copying things and if one household implement a new idea contrary to the culture, then others see the progress and the rest will also abandon their beliefs and learn the new strategy.

Mina Jhowry says the effects of climate change are altering the face of disaster risk.

 The flexibility required for adapting to an uncertain future climate must be integrated across both the long-term development work and humanitarian response. 

The integration of climate change adaptation will however require additional funding, which shouldn’t be taken from existing aid budgets. New and additional climate finance has been promised by rich countries, but there are still not any signs of the fulfillment of those promises.