Researchers in the country have been urged to draw on indigenous knowledge in specific disaster response mechanisms.
Dr Christine Gasingirwa, the director-general of science, research and innovation at the Ministry of Education, made the remarks while speaking at a national conference on disaster risk reduction in Kigali on Monday.
The conference brought together researchers, scientists and members of civil society organisations.
The conference capped the Disaster Reduction Week that has been running since October 27 to raise community awareness on disaster prevention.
The week was marked under the theme, “promoting local and indigenous knowledge for resilience.”
Gasingirwa said there are several cases to illustrate how indigenous knowledge can be useful in disaster management response.
“Research should draw into African indigenous knowledge to solve specific issues. For instance, in this country people can tell you that when clouds form from a certain direction it does not rain in their area. If you check you will realise that those people are right even if they do not know the reason. This indigenous knowledge should provide entry points for researchers to come up with empirical reasons for such facts,” Gasingirwa challenged researchers.
“In case of injuries, our ancestors used some herbs for curing. Why don’t we start with these herbs to make new products? We need to have deep analysis on such practices and knowledge and scale them up?” she wondered.
Seraphine Mukantabana, the Minister for Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR), said indigenous knowledge is essential for early prevention of disasters.
She said, “disasters occurred even before the contemporary technologies we use to forecast them. However, despite the absence of those sophisticated tools, our ancestors had different ways to forecast. Those practices and knowledge could not be upheld and complemented with the current technologies for better prevention.”
Mukantabana said a pilot study on essential indigenous knowledge and practices is being undertaken in Rubavu and Rutsiro districts, with 44 bearers whose documented knowledge would be spread in the community.
Dr Jean Ngamije, the rector of the Independent Institute of Lay Adventists of Kigali (INILAK), said the community should reject the wrong perception of associating indigenous knowledge to witchcraft.
He said, “indigenous knowledge and practices have been essential in local weather forecasting and other practices but people take it as a kind of witchcraft. There is a need for more campaigns to change the mindset so that people can value such knowledge and practices.”
Some of the measures undertaken by the ministry to respond to disasters include a research being conducted on deploying high capacity lightning rods to protect households and setting up a team with rescue materials such as temporary shelters in areas most prone to disasters, according to the ministry
Since January this year, disasters caused deaths of 68 people and destroyed 1,147 houses, 652 hectares of crops, killed 32 animals, while 48 bridges were damaged. The cost of the damage was estimated at over Rwf4bn, according to the ministry.