The role of local knowledge in community-based flood risk management in Malawi
Sakic Trogrlic, Robert
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The importance of communities and their local knowledge (LK) in disaster risk reduction is widely discussed in international policy arenas and research agendas. However, studies of practical experiences of community-based approaches remain scarce, as current scholarship is oriented towards mere documentation of LK, and there is a lack of understanding of the extent to which community-based approaches facilitate the uptake of LK. Therefore, this thesis critically explores the role of LK in community-based flood risk management (CBFRM) in Malawi. The qualitative research approach included interviews and focus group discussions with local communities and external stakeholders (non-governmental organisations, government representatives, flood risk management consultants), direct observations in the field, and analysis of seconardy data. Data were collected through three periods of fieldwork in 2016 and 2017 in the Lower Shire Valley, the most flood affected area of Malawi, and analysed using thematic analysis. The findings reveal that local communities have rich and sophisticated LK that assists them in managing localised flooding. Their LK is highly dynamic, continuously refined, and hybrid. Knowledge possession and use are not homogenous within a community and are conditioned by social, economic and political contexts, resulting in differentiated access to LK. There are indications of a decreased reliance on LK due to exogenous processes (e.g. climate change, environmental degradation, penetration of new approaches and technologies), and its effectiveness is challenged by the changing nature of flooding at local levels. CBFRM in Malawi experiences a number of challenges, both internally created and externally imposed, which result in its limited impact. Some of the core components of good CBFRM practice, such as community participation and sustainability of implemented approaches, are currently lacking. This research finds that LK is underutilised in CBFRM and argues that current practice provides a limited opportunity for the inclusion of LK, due to five prime obstacles: i) current approach to community participation, ii) financial constraints and capacity of external stakeholders, iii) the donor landscape, iv) information consolidation and sharing, and v) external stakeholders attitudes towards LK. In CBFRM, a strong dichotomy between local and scientific knowledge is maintained. The study provides practical advice for improving the existing practice; most notably, it reveals a need for building evidence for LK as a tool for challenging the prevailing attitudes.