Community Perceptions of Local Knowledge for Community-Based Flood Risk Management: The Case of ‘Zamakolo’ in Malawi

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 11:45
Oral Presentation
Robert SAKIC TROGRLIC, Heriot-Watt University, United Kingdom
Grant B. WRIGHT, Heriot-Watt University, United Kingdom
Adebayo J ADELOYE, Heriot-Watt University, United Kingdom
Melanie J DUNCAN, British Geological Survey (Natural Environment Research Council), United Kingdom
Faidess MWALE, Polytechnic Blantyre, University of Malawi, Malawi
In the developing world, community-based disaster risk reduction (CB-DRR) presents a well-established approach for reducing vulnerabilities of rural communities. CB-DRR interventions have emerged as a way to foster community participation, create empowerment and integrate local perspectives. The premise that local knowledge (LK) constitutes an important determinant of community resilience to disasters has been increasingly promoted in scholarly work and international policy arenas. However, despite the ‘promise of inclusion’ of CB-DRR, realities from the ground imply that participation, and consequently, inclusion of LK, is often limited. In addition, existing literature is largely focused on the documentation of LK, without a deeper understanding of how communities, as creators, holders and users of this knowledge perceive its’ usefulness for disaster risk reduction. This paper explores the realities of LK in community-based flood risk management (CB-FRM) in the Lower Shire Valley, the most vulnerable region affected by annual flooding in Malawi. Through a thematic analysis of a series of focus group discussions, key informant interviews and field visits in 12 rural communities (conducted April 2016-September 2017), the study explores the prominence of LK in existing approaches for dealing with flood risk. The results indicate a vast array of methods, embedded in the local tradition, understandable by community members and not requiring any formal educational or external support. However, participants also reported a perceived decrease in the role of LK, driven primarily by climate change and environmental degradation, which threatens its’ future use. Accordingly, participants expressed a general preference towards the type of “modern” CB-FRM approaches, introduced by external organisations, that do not explicitly integrate LK. Overall, experiences from Malawi suggest the need for a system for documenting and preserving LK, better integration of LK into the work of development partners, and finally, rethinking how communities’ confidence into their own capacities could be increased.