The Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) is based on the philosophy that efficient management of the climatic risks today is the foundation for managing the changed climatic risks of tomorrow. Sound scientific knowledge underpins this foundation. Where they exist, climate services are extremely effective. Prominent user sectors are agriculture, water management, health, disaster risk reduction, planning and energy. But there is a wide gap between the needs for climate services and their current provision in climate-vulnerable developing countries and especially in their communities.
Communities in Vanuatu have always related to the climate and weather in their own context. Being highly exposed to risks of extreme events such as tropical cyclones, flooding and droughts, communities have naturally adapted in their own ways. They are able to use their surroundings to indicate in advance the different weather extremes they are likely to face. These careful observations of their surrounding have allowed them to come up with their own traditional forecasting methods which have been tested and proven to be very reliable.
In parts of the country where communication is still a challenge, communities continue to rely on their knowledge of the environment to guide their preparedness for extreme events. While there is promise in the use of this traditional based science, there are also challenges.
The first challenge comes as a result of modernization and increased emphasis for the use of western science over traditional methods. Modern school systems, urbanization, the growing interest in the cash economy and western goods have left the traditional based knowledge, such as the knowledge to be able to forecast weather and climate using indicators, a thing of the past. It seems to have not yet found its place in the modern society and thus slowly fading away. In some communities, there may be less than a handful of elders left who still hold this wealth of knowledge. This program will hope to document some of the remaining knowledge so they can be reintroduced to the younger generations through vernacular programs in primary schools or preserved in archives.
The second challenge often confronted by the VMGD is to reach out to remote communities to document traditional knowledge. This knowledge in some communities have been used and relied upon for centuries and it formed a vital part of the societal structure. For example, on Tanna Island, the chiefly system setup would have different tupunas who have their own role in the governance structure of a community. In that governance structure, it is a tupunas whose role is to provide weather information to the chief and the people. He would be a weatherman of the community and his role has been predefined over centuries.
The tupunas have found their own niche in these communities and therefore have more authority and effect on people’s decision than a foreign advice that comes from outside institutions such as the VMGD. Communities over the years have naturally followed the advice from tupunas. However, tupunas lack the understanding of the broader science and often in circumstance what they think they know as dictated by century old practice would be contradictory to advice from VMGD.
The century old knowledge has been observed over many years. To communities, the indicators they use from plants and animals are reliable and have guided their activities for many years. Modern forecasting systems on the other hand is based on complex mathematical calculations and proven theories which are also tested and verified. There is a real opportunity to integrate both the centuries old traditional weather and climate forecast system and modern scientific methods in Vanuatu for improved decision making.