Journeys in dangerous waters: indigenous knowledge and climate adaptation in coastal areas

My research explores the contribution of indigenous knowledge to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in developing countries, with particular attention on water management in coastal areas. It seeks to deliver technological and cultural solutions to environmental risks and degradation, using an interdisciplinary approach including anthropology, development studies and geography.

It is based on an ethnography of coastal Guyana, which is extremely vulnerable to sea level rise and extreme weather events. This vulnerability, at the local level, is both shaped by the changing climate and colonial history, which has left traces both on the space, and “in the veins” (Williams, 1991). At the same time, structural adjustment policies and a legacy of exclusion and neglect constrain the government’s ability to prioritise climate change adaptation. Guyana is one of South America’s poorest countries, and most of its economy is located on its narrow coastal strip, which is highly vulnerable to sea level rise, its people experiencing “everyday floods” that further enhance their vulnerability to larger-scale episodic events.

In a changing climate, the human costs of these events could grow dramatically. At the global level, however, climate adaptation is often overlooked to the benefit of larger scale investments in disaster response, which fail to address the root causes of vulnerability. For that reason, I will be conducting a multi-level analysis of climate adaptation from the local (experience) to the international level. My research is therefore located at the crossroads between development and humanitarianism.

Lise Cazzoli
Research Student