The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Indigeneous Knowledge in Adapting to Natural Disasters in the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle

Posted in ASEAN-Canada Partnership by NTSblog on August 1, 2014

Over the past decades, the occurrence of natural hazards has been more frequent and intense, so much so that they have severely impacted communities. With advancements in technology, scientists are able to better predict environmental and climatic changes. However, the application of these technological advancements in rural areas is difficult due to lack of financial and human resources.

In light of this, indigenous knowledge – practical experiences in detecting and responding to the natural disasters that has been handed from generation to generation amongst locals – would be more useful and feasible. Livelihoods of communities living in the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle (CLVDTA) are based on agricultural production activities, raising livestock and fishing. These livelihoods are vulnerable to weather and climate change. Thus, the question raised is: how can indigenous knowledge contribute to detecting, adapting and responding to natural disasters as well as to guarantee sustainable livelihoods for local people?

Based on research fieldwork conducted in Kon Tum province of Vietnam, locals were asked the above-mentioned question, through which their answers revealed local strategies in early warning systems in the event of natural hazards. The local people noted that they could predict an incoming flood based on changes in the river, namely if the river water turns to red and white foam appears floating, and the water level fluctuates.

In the case of Ratanakiri province of Cambodia, when asked the same question, local people in Phum Buon commune shared that they could know when the flood come if they saw the tail of Trokut (a type of lizard) change colour (i.e. to black), or the Trech (a type of red ant) nets were located at higher on the tree tops. After identifying these signals, the local people would tell each other to take precautions to minimize the negative effects of natural hazards.

In addition, indigenous knowledge also provides practical experiences to the local people in order to help them to adapt to the changes of surrounding environment. In fact, over many years, local communities and ethnic groups in this region have been faced with these challenges. The local people with their practical experience have to find solutions to adapt to the changes such as planting appropriate crops suitable for drought and flood conditions[i], finding alternative food sources (from farming to fishing when the flood season arrives), or relying on a reciprocal system that provides funds from family and friends for assistance[ii] after suffering natural disasters.

The use of indigenous knowledge in detecting, forecasting and adapting to natural disasters has been always playing important roles, contributing to minimize the impact of natural disasters to local people. This research tries to provide a comprehensive account and suggest suitable solutions to predict and respond to disasters in the CLVDTA in order to minimize its impacts on local people livelihoods.


[i] Recently, short-day plants and industrial crops such as beans, cassava… with better resilience to the harsh external conditions have been planted. Moreover, by dint of using indigenous knowledge, local people created organic manures and fertilizers using traditional forest products, manure, and leaves to limit the use of chemical pesticides.

[ii]The role of communal sharing traditional in rebuilding houses, sharing foods, providing basic tools, and so on is one of the most common coping strategies to natural hazards in the region.


This blog post has been written by Anh Tuan Nguyen. Anh Tuan is currently a PhD candidate in International Economic Affairs at the Graduate Academy of Social Sciences in Vietnam, and Junior Fellow (2013-2014) under the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership. For more information on the ASEAN-Canada Research Partnership, please click here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: