Knowledge for life among Colombia’s Nasa people

Walter Cotte, International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and Ricardo Mena, UNISDR deliver “Giant Riskland” to young people from indigenous communities and the Panamanian Institute for Special Education (IPHE). (Photo: UNISDR)
PANAMA, 20 October 2015 – The resilience of the Nasa indigenous community in Colombia has been recognized 21 years after they lost over 1,000 people in a flood and earthquake which struck on June 6, 1994.

Living along the banks of the Páez, they have also been coping successfully with the reactivation of the Nevado de Huila volcano in 2007. The volcano gained international notoriety when it erupted in 1985 and claimed 25,000 lives following the authorities' failure to take costly preventive measures in the absence of clear signs of imminent danger.

The Nasa community was recognized as a champion of disaster risk reduction on International Day for Disaster Reduction this month for raising of risk awareness, disaster preparedness, risk management and recovery efforts.

Applying a zero casualty approach, they have reduced mortality from significant disaster events such as two major avalanches on February 18 and April 19, 2007. Ten people died in a third event which occurred on November 20, 2008, which would have caused a much greater number of casualties except for the high state of preparedness in the community as a result of local knowledge developed from experiences of the 1994 and 1985 catastrophes.

The indigenous villagers of the Páez River lowlands have also resettled people out of the danger zones with support from government agencies following the establishment in 2007 of a territorial prevention plan that enhanced community organization and the relationship with the institutions to face the volcanic phenomenon.

The main actions undertaken by the community mirror the recommendations of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction focusing on a greater understanding of disaster risk through the recovery of ancestral knowledge of the environment and complementing it with scientific knowledge; stronger risk governance with restrictions on land use based on risk analysis carried out by the community.

For the Nasa people, this experience in building community resilience associated with its territorial dynamics, has represented an opportunity to review and rethink their relationship with nature, especially with the Nevado del Huila volcano "the gray-haired old man."

A ceremony held on October 13 and chaired by the UNISDR Regional Office for the Americas recognized the indigenous village of Nasa of the municipality of Paez, Colombia as a Champion for Disaster Risk Reduction in the Americas.

The El Estribo community in Paraguay received honourable mention for the presentation of its experience in evaluating traditional knowledge and participation to reduce risk to drought in the Paraguayan Chaco, followed by the presentation of a special report on Resilient Communities in Panama, produced by TVN-2 in coordination with the National Civil Protection System (SINAPROC) and World Vision, with support from UNISDR.

International Day in the Americas was also marked by the publication of a new survey carried out in Panama which found that four out of nine Panamanians consider that disaster risk has increased, and inhabitants of Panama Metro attribute this increase to the building of homes in flood zones and the unavailability of disaster risk information. This calls for a plan to educate and empower people to take action on disaster.

These were the findings of the national opinion survey conducted by the CID/Gallup* firm in Panama on the occasion of the International Disaster for Disaster Reduction (#IDDR2015), this year celebrating traditional, indigenous and local knowledge as key to strengthening the resilience of vulnerable communities, with a focus on respect and cultural integration.

Finally, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Plan International, Word Vision and UNISDR partners delivered educational materials on disaster prevention in giant format to students of schools and communities in vulnerable areas.

Representatives of all sectors involved at the regional and national level participated in the event that took place at the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) in Panama.

*The survey was conducted at a time when Panama was experiencing heavy rains from 4 to 11 September 2015, which affected housing, felled trees and flooded streets. It used a sample of 1,228 respondents nationwide, citizens 18 years and older living in the country.
The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2018, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 16-19 July 2018 The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2018, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 16-19 July 2018.
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