Batanes folk watch chickens to predict weather

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Batanes seascape. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/Mandy Navasero

MANILA, Philippines—Predicting the arrival of a storm is no easy task even for meteorologists.

But for the elderly residents of the tiny island town of Ivana in Batanes, sometimes it’s as simple as watching how chickens behave.

Through the years, residents of this farming community that is regularly visited by strong typhoons have found many ways to cope with the extremes of weather.

It’s this folk knowledge that the government hopes to harness through a new climate change project called “Ecotown.”

“The senior citizens in our town know how to read the signs that a storm is coming. For example, when the chickens begin behaving oddly, when they don’t sleep in their regular haunts, that’s one sign,” said Ivana Mayor Anastacio Barsana.

“There are many signs, telltale signs that have been proven, which is how they survive strong storms,” he said.

With a population of just more than 1,200, the town of Ivana has been chosen as a demonstration site of Ecotown, a two-year P25-million research program of the Climate Change Commission in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development.

The Ecotown project analyzes how the specific climate risks in a community can enhance and be integrated into the municipality’s development plans, officials said.

But the information exchange will be two-way, as the researchers will also document the town’s best practices in dealing with weather disturbances, said Mary Ann Lucille Sering, CCC vice chair and executive director.

“We will learn a lot from Batanes,” Sering told a press conference on Thursday.

“What we’ll do in Batanes is to document their best practices in adapting to strong typhoons that can be replicated in other communities, as in Mindanao where typhoons have now become more prevalent,” said Alexis Lapiz, program coordinator of Ecotown project.

Barsana said residents of his town had weathered many natural disasters, from tsunamis to earthquakes, with virtually no casualties.

“Sometimes when the storm is so strong, coconut trees would be uprooted, and houses would be unroofed, but the people survive even then,” he said. “They are always prepared.”

Barsana noted that for the past seven years, however, fewer and fewer typhoons have been striking the island.

“Before we were lucky to have fewer than three big storms in a year, but now, most of these storms cross Mindanao instead,” he said.

Sering said climate change involved not only extreme weather disturbances but also other effects on the community.

“We’re not only talking about typhoons, we’re talking about different impacts, such as food security and agriculture,” she said.

Sering said Batanes residents were known to have a fondness for alcoholic drinks like rum, but because of their diet, which is rich in root crops, liver ailments have been relatively low.

“But because the climate is changing, crop harvests are lower, and drink-related ailments have risen. It’s possible the root crops have changed because of the slight spike in temperature,” she said.

The other main objective of Ecotown is the production of hazard maps to identify vulnerable areas and minimize harm from extreme weather events brought about by climate change.

Besides the Ivana demonstration site, Ecotown will also be introduced in other places this year, including Davao Oriental, Camarines Sur, and the lower Marikina watershed, Sering said.

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