11.08.2011 - Natural Sciences Sector

Saved by their ancestors

For Prime Minister Naoto Kan, the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster which devastated Japan in March were the country’s ‘worst crisis since the Second World War’. Considering that he was comparing the tragedy to the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, his statement is heavy in meaning. Although the provisional death toll of 25 000 is one-tenth that of both the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004 and the Haiti earthquake last year, the tragedy has deeply traumatized the population. It could also become the world’s most expensive disaster on record, with government cost estimates of up to US$300 billion.

Amid the desolation, the Japanese could take comfort from the thought that knowledge passed down over the generations had saved some lives. While the benefits of local and indigenous knowledge in reducing disaster risk are increasingly being acknowledged, a challenge remains: how do you integrate such knowledge constructively with scientific knowledge and policy? This is a difficult yet important step, as it could help reduce the vulnerability of those communities most exposed to hazards. A project launched last year by UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Science in Asia and Pacific is taking up the challenge in three countries: Indonesia, the Philippines and Timor Leste.




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