Vernacular Knowledge, Natural Disasters, and Climate Change in Monsoon Asia




vernacular knowledge, Monsoon Asia, natural disaster management, climate change, extreme climate, natural hazards


In Monsoon Asia, home to more than half of the world’s population, extreme climatic events are expected to become more frequent and intense due to climate change. Modern disaster management to date has focused on assessing the risks of natural hazards based on historical data, responding to disasters through prevention and mitigation techniques, and information campaigns, instead of vernacular knowledge cultivated in the local environment. This has led the public to a dangerous complacency about the power of technology over nature, and neglecting the possibility of “unforeseen” events. Climate change has not only made it more difficult to assess the risks of natural hazards, but has also diminished local resilience to them. However, since the adoption of the Hyogo Framework for Action in 2005, Monsoon Asia has begun multi-sectoral efforts to build local resilience to natural hazards by integrating vernacular knowledge into modern disaster management. Whereas in the past, experts and government agencies regarded the public as mere recipients of their services, they have now become acutely aware of the need to build partnerships with local communities to compensate for current technological limitations in disaster management, and to imaginatively prepare for the increasing risks of climatic contingencies. To achieve these goals, vernacular knowledge can be a useful resource, and a number of efforts have been initiated in the region to preserve such knowledge in imaginative forms to pass it on to future generations.

Author Biography

Senjo Nakai, Thammasat University, Thailand

Dr Senjo Nakai teaches media and journalism at Thammasat University, Thailand. His current interests include the Asian mediascape, Japanese cinema, and the roles of tactical media in public health campaigns, natural disaster management and political communication.


Amrith, S. S. (2018). Unruly waters: How mountain rivers and monsoons have shaped south Asia’s history. Basic Books.

Arunotai, N. (2014). Prasopkankhongchaomoken naikanpachaengkaptsunami penyangraibang? [What did the Moken experience during the tsunami?]. In N. Arunotai (Ed.), Thaksawatanatam chaole roirueangraochaole [Cultural skills of the sea dwellers: Many stories of the sea dwellers], (pp. 111-113). Parbpim.

Asian Development Bank. (2015). Southeast Asia and the economics of global

climate stabilization.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Government of Myanmar, & United Nations Country Team in Myanmar. (2008). Post-Nargis joint assessment.

Azzali, S., Law, L., & Lundberg, A. (2020). Sustainable Tropical Urbanism: Insights from Cities of the Monsoonal Asia-Pacific. eTropic: electronic journal of studies in the Tropics, 19(2), 1–24. DOI:

Basic act on disaster management 1961. (1961). S. 7.2, 8.2.13 (Japan)

Clift, P. D., Tada, R., & Zheng, H. (2010). Monsoon evolution and tectonics-climate linkage in East Asia: Climate linkage in Asia. Geological Society of London. DOI:

Davies, H. (2002). Tsunamis and the coastal communities of Papua New Guinea. In R. Torrence, & J. Grattan (Eds.), Natural disasters and cultural change, (pp. 28-42). Routledge.

Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation of Thailand. (2015, April). National progress report on the implementation of the Hyogo framework for action (2013-2015).

Dundes, A. (2007). Folklore as a mirror of culture. In S. J. Bronne (Ed.), The meaning of folklore (pp. 53-66). Utah State University Press.

Fire and Disaster Management Agency of Japan. (2008). Zenkoku saigai denshō jōhō [National disaster lore information].

Fire and Disaster Management Agency of Japan. (2021, March 9). Heisei 23-nen (2011-nen) Tōhokuchihō Taiheiyōjishin (Higashi-nihon daishinsai). [The 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake (Great East Japan Earthquake) (161st report)].

Gaillard, J.-C., & Texier, P. (2008). Guest editorial. Disaster prevention and management, 17(3), 346-349. DOI:

Gaillard, J.-C., & Texier, P. (2010). Religions, natural hazards, and disasters: An introduction. Religion, 40(2), 81–84. DOI:

Haruyama, S. (2000). Environmental change and natural hazard of the farm-land on the Red

River Delta, Vietnam. Journal of the Japanese Society of Irrigation, Drainage and Reclamation Engineering, 68, 15-20.

IPCC, (2021, In Press). Summary for Policymakers. In Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, A. Pirani, S. L. Connors, C. Péan, S. Berger, N. Caud, Y. Chen, L. Goldfarb, M. I. Gomis, M. Huang, K. Leitzell, E. Lonnoy, J.B.R. Matthews, T. K. Maycock, T. Waterfield, O. Yelekçi, R. Yu and B. Zhou (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. (2021, March

. Emergency plan of action final report Indonesia: Earthquakes and tsunamis – Sunda Straits Tsunami.

International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. (2009). Hyogo framework for action

-2015: Building the resilience of nations and communities to disasters: extract from the final report of the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (A/CONF206/6).

Itō, Y. (2010). Kōzui to ningen: Sono sōkoku no rekishi [Flood and man: history of

the conflicts]. Kokonshoin.

Jankaew, K. (2014, December 25). Boxing Day Tsunami 10 years later. Chulalongkorn

University Geology.

Japan Sabo Association. (2014, July 16). Heisei 26-nen 7-gatsu kokonoka Naganoken Kisogun Nagisomachi Yomikaki de hasseishita dosekiryūsaigai nituite [Debris flow in Yomikaki, Nagiso Town, Kiso County, Nagano Prefecture, July 9, 2014].

Kanai, M. & Katada, T. (2011). Tsunamishuraiji no juminhinan o yūhatsusuru shakaitaio no kentō: 2010nen Chirijishin tsunami no hinan jittai kara [“Social correspondences to urge residents to evacuate at tsunami arrival–According to the actual situation of residents’ response at Chile earthquake tsunami in 2010”]. Bōsaijōhō [Journal of Disaster Information Studies], 9, 103-113.

Katada, T. (2012). Kodomotachi o mamotta ‘shisei no bōsai kyōiku’: Ōtsunami kara ikinuita Kamaishishi no jidō/seito no kōdō ni manabu [‘Disaster prevention education on attitude’ that protected children: Learning from the actions of children and students in Kamaishi City who survived the great tsunami]. Journal of Disaster Information Studies, 10, 37-42.

Kawakatsu, H. (1997). Bunmei no kaiyō shikan [A maritime history of civilisation]. Chuōkōronshinsha.

Kyuma, K. (2009, October 5). Nature and agriculture in Monsoon Asia. [Keynote address] Monsoon Asia Agro-Environmental Research Consortium Symposium 2009, Tsukuba, Japan.

Lundberg, A. (2021). Balinese dancer wearing a gas mask: climate change and the tropical imaginary. Scottish Geographical Journal, 136, 91-100. DOI:

Lundberg, A. (2003). Voyage of the Ancestors. Cultural Geographies, 10, 64-83. DOI:

Luong, H. V. (2017). The reconstruction of heritage in rural Vietnam: An analysis of state and local dynamics. In H.-H., Hsiao, Y.-F., Hui, & P. Peycam. (Eds.), Citizens, civil society, and heritage-making in Asia (pp. 86-113). ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. DOI:

Mawere, M. (2015). Indigenous knowledge for disaster risk management in Africa: Some showcases from Zimbabwe. In M. Mawere & S. Awuah-Nyamekye (Eds.), Between rhetoric and reality: The state and use of indigenous knowledge in Post-Colonial Africa (pp. 19-38). African Books Collective. DOI:

Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, & Japan Meteorological Agency. (2018). Kikōhendō no kansoku·yosoku oyobi eikyōhyōka tōgōrepōto 2018: Nihon no kikōhendō to sonoeikyō [Climate change observation, projection, and impact assessment integrated report 2018: Climate change and its impacts in Japan].

Mishra, O. P., Khare, N., Das, S. B., Kumar, V., Singh, J., Vandana, Singh, P., Ghatak, M., Shekhar, S., Tiwari, A., Gera, S. K., Mahto, R., & Gusain, P. (2021). Glacial mass change–induced earthquakes in the Himalayan region of South Asia and its bearing to understand Arctic glaciers dynamics: proxy of climate change. In N. Khare (Ed.), Understanding present and past Arctic environments (pp. 433-455). Elsevier. DOI:

Nakai, S. (2017, July 15). White eel and virtuous widow in lost city: Archiving Northern Thai folklore of natural disasters [paper presentation]. In Interface between local knowledge and scientific knowledge: Disaster management in Thailand. Globalized Thailand? Connectivity, conflicts, and conundrums of Thai studies. 13th International Conference on Thai Studies, Chiang Mai, Thailand. (pp. 1045-1075).

Okada, T. (1985). Iizuka Kōji no ajiaron: Sonosenchū sengo [Kōjino Iizuka’s Asianism: Its interwar and post-war phases]. Jimbun Chiri [Japanese Journal of Human Geography], 37(5), 389-406. DOI:

Okae, T. (2019). Betonamu no nōgyō to nōchiseisaku [Agriculture and agricultural land systems in Vietnam]. Policy Research Institute of Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and fisheries’ country report.

Ongsakul, S. (2005). History of Lan Na. Silkworm Books.

Oppenheimer, M., B.C. Glavovic, J. Hinkel, R. van de Wal, A.K. Magnan, A. Abd-Elgawad, R. Cai, M. Cifuentes-Jara, R.M. DeConto, T. Ghosh, J. Hay, F. Isla, B. Marzeion, B. Meyssignac, & Z. Sebesvari. (2019). Sea Level Rise and Implications for Low-Lying Islands, Coasts and Communities. In H.-O. Pörtner, D.C. Roberts, V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, M. Tignor, E. Poloczanska, K. Mintenbeck, A. Alegría, M. Nicolai, A. Okem, J. Petzold, B. Rama, & N.M. Weyer (Eds.), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special report on the ocean and cryosphere in a changing climate.

Otomo, N. (2013). Tai niokeru bōsaiseisaku to ‘butsureki 2550-nen bōsai oyobi keigenhō’

[Disaster prevention policies in Thailand and ‘Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act of B.E. 2550’]. Gaikoku no rippō [Foreign Legislation], 251, 239-246.

Phraya Prachakitkorachak. (2014). Phongsawadan Yonok [Yonok chronicle]. Sipanya.

Prendergast, A. L., Cupper, M.L., Jankaew, K., & Sawai, Y. (2012). Indian Ocean Tsunami recurrence from optical dating of tsunami sand sheets in Thailand. Marine Geology, 295-298, 20-27. DOI:

‘Pu’ rot! Popocho titok khadi ploy namthuamyai pi-54 chi pen phai thammachat [‘Pu’

survives! National anti-corruption commission dropped case on 2011 flood, citing natural disaster]. (2017, March 13). Thai Rath Online.

Rahman, A., Sakurai, A., and Munadi, K. (2017). The analysis of the development of the Smong story on the 1907 and 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis in strengthening the Simeulue island community’s resilience. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 29, 13-23. DOI:

Saito, Y. (2012). Naganokenhokubu-jishin niokeru Sakaemura no saigaitaiō

nikansuru chōsa [Survey on Sakaemura’s disaster response to the Northern Nagano Earthquake]. Shōbōkagaku to jōhō [Scientific Approaches for Fire and Information], 108, 41-45.

Sasamoto, S. (1994). Januke, ijin, kodama: rekishisaigai to denshō [The run-off of snake,

others, tree spirits: The folklore of historical disasters]. Tokyo: Iwata-shoin.

Satake, K., Namegaya, Y., & Yamaki, S. (2008). Numerical simulation of the AD 869 Jogan tsunami in Ishinomaki and Sendai plains. Annual report on active fault and paleoearthquake Researches, 8, 71-89.

Shimazaki, K. (2011). Yosokusaretanimokakawarazu higaisōteikara hazusareta kyodaitusnami [Great tsunamis that had been predicted but were not included in the damage estimates]. Kagaku [Science], 81(10), 1002-1006.

Shrestha, S. (2014). Assessment of water availability under climate change scenarios in Thailand. In S. Shrestha (Ed.), Climate change impacts and adaptation in water resources and water use sectors (pp. 9-23). Springer. DOI:

Syafwina, S. (2014). Recognizing indigenous knowledge for disaster management: Smong, early warning system from Simeulue Island, Aceh. Procedia Environmental Sciences, 20, 573–582. http://doi:10.1016/j.proenv.2014.03.070 DOI:

Tajimi Sediment Control and National Highway Office. (2012). Kisogawasuikei chokkatsu sabōjigyō Setsumeishiryō [Explanatory material of erosion and sediment control projects for the Kiso River system, implemented by the office].

Takeda, F., Takeuchi, K., & Mizuyama, T. (2017). A Study on local governments’ efforts to hand down lessons learned from disaster in Japan. GRIPS Discussion Papers 17-02, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

‘Tendeko’ sanriku no chie, kodomotachi o sukuu [‘Tendeko’—Wisdom of Sanriku saves children]. (2011, March 28). Yomiuri Online.

Tenryūgawajōryūiki saigaikyōkunden shōshuhō kentōkai [Research Unit for Studying

How to Pass on Lessons Learned from Natural Disasters in Tenryū River Upper Reaches] (2009). Tenryūgawajōryūiki saigaikyōkundenshō shuhō jissen no tebiki to jirei (an) [A guide and examples of disaster lesson transfer methods in the Upper Tenryū River Basin (Draft)]

Thai Meteorological Department. (n.d.). TMD history.

Tokyo Electric Power Company. (2011). Fukushima nuclear accident analysis report (Interim report of December 02, 2011).

Umesao, T. (1957). Bunmei no seitaishikan josetsu [Introduction to an ecological view of civilisation]. Chūōkōron 72(1), 32-49.

United Nations Country Team in Thailand. (2005, December 22). Tsunami Thailand, one year later - National response and the contribution of international partners.

United Nations Development Programme. (2016). Thailand: Common country assessment. › docs › cca › TH-CCA-2016

Usman, M. (2016). A study on the enhancing earthquake frequency in northern Pakistan: is the climate change responsible? Natural Hazards, 82, 921–931. DOI:

Watsuji, T. (1962). A climate: A philosophical study (B. Geoffrey, Trans.). Japanese Government’s Printing Bureau. (Original work published 1935).

World Bank. (2012). Thai flood 2011. Overview rapid assessment for resilient recovery and reconstruction.

Yamashita, F. (2008). Tsunami tendenko: Kindainihon no tsunamishi [Tsunami

tendenko: Modern history of tsunamis in Japan]. Shinnihon Shuppansha.




How to Cite

Nakai, S. (2021). Vernacular Knowledge, Natural Disasters, and Climate Change in Monsoon Asia. ETropic: Electronic Journal of Studies in the Tropics, 20(2), 114–137.