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Villagers turn to local wisdom to manage disasters in Ende

By: Tifa Asrianti
The Jakarta Post, Ende | Mon, 12/27/2010 9:12 AM | National

Rosalia Bela, 43, shudders whenever she recalls the great flood of 1979 that swept over her hometown of Tanali village in Wewaria district, Ende, Flores.

At the time, rain poured for almost one week. Awoken by the sound of rushing water, then 12-year-old Rosalia quickly ran to a hill near her village. “I couldn’t save anything from the house. Everything was swept away. Even my little brother fell victim to the disaster,” she said.

Another Tanali village resident, Maria Koni, 50, also remembers the great flood. She said she heard the sound of crashing rocks caused by rushing water. She remembered that there was a woman who was swept up in the strong floodwaters and wound up stuck upside-down in a tree in a bat-like position.

The 1979 flood was not the last disaster to befall the village, which experienced another flood in 1988 and an earthquake in 1992. Tanali village lies near the estuaries of Lowodaga and Loworendo rivers, the two rivers that form Loworea river.

When asked about the possibility of moving the village to an upstream area, Tanali village Lio tribal chief Raymundus Seko said that the cost of the traditional ceremony to ask the ancestors’ permission would be high. “We need to sacrifice several buffaloes, which is expensive. Besides, it is very unlikely that the result of the ceremony would be positive. So we stay. But we advise newly married couples to move to the upper area,” he said.

With the village location near the waterway, the Tanali villagers have to befriend their environment and adapt to threats of disaster. They use local knowledge to minimize disaster risk, such as building stone embankments and replanting deforested areas with the help of British-based NGO Oxfam and local non-government organizations (NGOs) Yayasan Tali Mandiri (Yastim) and the Flores Institute for Resources Development (FIRD).

Today, the village also has a disaster alert team.

Disaster alert team chief Darius Gare said that since 2007 his village has built a stone embankment along the river to hamper the flow of floodwater. Villagers have also planted bamboo and trees on the river banks and has heightened enforcements to prevent floodwater from polluting wells — a frequent source of post-disaster diseases.

In the past, farmers used embankments to strengthen the irrigation channel, Darius said, adding that at first villagers made bamboo-plaited embankments that normally only lasted three years.

The Tanali people received PNPM Mandiri funds earlier this year, which they used to build a 150-meter ton embankment supported by chicken wire. The village has also allocated a plot of land to build a refugee camp and a barn. However, after their construction budget proposal was rejected by the administrations, the villagers are focused on things they can do.

Raymundus said that local Tanali community wisdom also used to prevent flooding dictated only cultivating land with certain degrees of incline, areas that would not be potential catalysts for disasters such as landslides and flash floods. “If people violate the regulation, they will have to pay poi [fines], usually a pig so big it must be carried by eight people. If they can not pay the fine, they must leave the village,” he said.

As preventing flooding in the downstream area is not enough, Tanali village leaders collaborate with villages in upstream areas, namely Golulada and Numba, to prevent shifting cultivation.

Golulada village head Lukas Lawa said that in the past his people had practiced shifting cultivation.

However, they switched to plantation products, such as nutmeg, coffee and pepper after they learned from Yastim and FIRD that their activities caused flooding in downstream areas.

Since his village was prone to other kinds of disasters, namely landslides, the people had began to plant local trees to mitigate the risk, he said. Golulada village had protected forest of 250 hectares and community forest of 100 hectares.

“We forbid people from cutting trees recklessly. They can only cut trees to build their own homes, not to sell the logs. If they cut the trees, they should plant replacement trees. If they do not follow the regulation, they must pay fines,” he said.

Such awareness of disaster risk management is not something established overnight. In the past people thought disasters occurred because of something they did that the ancestors disapproved of, Andre Minggus of Yastim said, adding that his team had asked Tanali residents about village disasters in the past.

“We showed several movies about various kind of disasters, and then we asked if those ever happened here. We discovered stories from the elders, and we found that they actually had the local wisdom to prevent disasters,” he said.

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/12/27/villagers-turn-local-wisdom-manage-disasters-ende.html

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