Strengthening Early Warning Systems for Disaster Risk Reduction

An earthquake in Myanmar (Burma). The earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Floods in Australia. Could local communities in these affected countries have weathered these natural disasters better, if they were equipped with robust early warning systems?

In Kerala, India, fishing communities have a reliable way to predict an impending storm. A toddy tapper extracts liquid from a coconut tree to get half of a pot. If he is able to obtain more than two pots, a rise in sea levels is imminent and a storm is a definite possibility.


Such traditional knowledge developed over eons may at first glance, seem to be unscientific. However, when examined carefully, robust scientific explanations are usually found to be at the heart of all such co-relations.

Now a new Amrita project funded by the Indian Council for Social Sciences Research, of the Ministry of Human Resources Development will harness such traditional, indigenous knowledge in an attempt to strengthen warning systems for mitigating natural disasters.

sunil-sirTitled Early Warning Systems in Disaster Risk Reduction: A Study on the Role of Local Knowledge among Coastal Fishing Communities in Kerala, the project will help minimize risk factors for coastal residents in Kerala.

Beginning April 1, the study will extend to a period of 18 months. It will be conducted in 20 villages in the districts of Trivandrum, Kollam, Alappuzha and Ernakulam. All these regions are especially prone to coastal hazards.

“Local, traditional knowledge can strengthen existing early warning systems,” explained Dr. Sunil D. Santha, Assistant Professor and Chairperson of the Department of Social Work at Amritapuri campus who will lead the study.

“There are community-based early warning systems that derive from culture and local knowledge, and formal early warning systems based on meteorological science and technological advances such as TV, radio and the internet. Our project will focus on capturing local knowledge at its source, and determining how it could be incorporated into existing systems of formal knowledge.”

fisherman“This will be more of an ethnographic study, so it will consist of in-depth qualitative interviews with traditional fishing communities that are a rich resource of local knowledge.”

“Our goal is to develop a method of incorporating the strengths of local community instead of relying on the outside sources to withstand the effects of coastal hazards. We hope to make coastal Kerala better prepared to weather a storm. We hope to add to our collective understanding of effective ways to use community-based approaches for disaster risk reduction.”

Students of MSW (Master of Social Work) and interns in the Department will assist with the study. The students, interns and faculty will aspire to publish the work in international peer-reviewed journals.

March 29, 2011
Dept of Social Work, Amritapuri

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