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Australian Indigenous HealthBulletin Alcohol and other drugs knowledge centre Yarning Places

Study highlights effective Indigenous disaster relief

Date posted: 18 February 2014

A recent American study has drawn attention to the way that Indigenous communities can effectively respond to natural disasters by drawing on local practices, traditions and lore in times of emergency. The study focuses on the way that one Indigenous community in American Samoa responded to a tsunami that struck in 2009. 

The study found that following the tsunami, residents relied on 'fa’a Samoa' or 'the Samoan Way', an umbrella term incorporating a variety of traditional institutions governing the lives of Samoan people. Immediately after the tsunami struck, the leaders (matai) began organizing the young men (aumaga) to begin rescuing tsunami victims and clearing debris from roads and critical infrastructure; the association of village women (aualuma) provided first aid, food and water to the victims; and the village mayors (pulenu'u) helped mitigate the destruction by sounding alarms in each community to warn of the impending danger.

'We found that communities like this have strong traditions that may not fit into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) model but they are still highly effective,' said study author Andrew Rumbach, PhD, assistant professor of planning and design at the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning. 'We think these same kinds of traditions could play important roles in disaster preparation, response and recover in American Indian communities, Alaskan villages, and among other Indigenous people.'

'We often come in after disasters and set up whole new systems but in these places we could use institutions already in place,' Rumbach said. 'Traditional communities have a lot of capacity.'

Source: redOrbit; Journal of ecology and society


Last updated: 18 February 2014
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