July 16, 2009 / 7:56 AM / in 8 years

Want to predict the weather? Watch the dragonflies

HANOI (Reuters Life!) - Can dragonflies warn of impending rain? Can you predict the weather by looking at the color of a cloud or by observing animals? For generations of Vietnamese farmers and fishermen, the answer is yes.

Although the weather in Vietnam is forecast using hi-tech satellite imaging, many communities still predict floods, storms and drought the traditional way -- by tracking nature.

For example, in a drought prone area of the coastal Ninh Thuan province, farmers believe that if the dragonfly flies high it will be sunny and if it flies low there will be rain.

In north-central Thua Thien Hue Province, fishermen are likely to bring their boats back to the shore if, in January or February, they look to the north and see a silver cloud that quickly disappears, as it is a sign of cold weather.

Many of these beliefs, which are kept alive through proverbs, folk songs and legends and which have so far been passed down orally, are now being recorded by a group of aid agencies in the Southeast Asian country as part of a project to see whether they still hold true in times of rapid climate change.

“The communities know a lot about disaster adaptation and the question now, in Vietnam, is to see if this indigenous knowledge is still accurate or not with the climate changing very quickly,” Guillaume Chantry, project coordinator of Development Workshop France (DWF), told Reuters.

Climate change is expected to hit low-lying Vietnam hard.

In April, the Asian Development Bank said by the end of this century, Vietnam’s rice production could dramatically decline while rising sea levels could submerge tens of thousands of hectares of cropland and uproot thousands of families living in coastal communities.

For the next two months, a group of agencies led by DWF will visit 10 disaster-prone areas from the mountainous north to the steamy Mekong delta in the south to collect information about traditional beliefs in the hope it could be used in programs to reduce the risk of natural disasters.

Dr. Ben Wisner, a hazards expert at Oberlin College, Ohio and London’s University College, says indigenous knowledge can help make disaster prevention programs more effective by pinpointing areas that are vulnerable to flooding and which are not visible on satellite images or official maps.

The idea of using local knowledge to create better ways to adapt to climate change and reduce the risk of natural disasters is slowly gaining ground as experts, scientists and aid workers scramble to find ways of predicting and dealing with the threat.

Critics dismiss traditional ways of reading the weather as backward and old-fashioned.

But, according to a U.N. report, during the devastating 2004 tsunami, the Moken nomads on the coast of Thailand were among other Asian communities that were largely spared, because they noticed the change in environment, using knowledge passed down through generations, and fled to higher ground.

“It’s important for us practitioners to know how communities usually protect themselves,” Chantry said.

Reporting by Thin Lei Win; editing by Katie Nguyen and Miral Fahmy

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