Saleemul Huq, director of the UK-based International Institute for Environment and Development's climate change programme, drew on examples from Bangladesh of how local communities have often evolved effective ways of handling extreme weather events.
When cyclones strike Bangladesh, people safeguard food by wrapping and burying it. During floods, they store seeds on the floating leaves of the water hyacinth.
Bangladesh's rich local knowledge and experience in dealing such disasters, said Huq, would "be of value to other countries, especially those in the region, that do not have such extensive experience and knowledge of dealing with climatic hazards."
Huq said plans for communities to adapt to climate change should incorporate indigenous knowledge based on experiences of dealing with natural disasters.
He added that although the recent Indian Ocean tsunami was not linked to climate change, it highlighted the vulnerability of poor coastal communities who were severely affected by the disaster.
Ain un Nishat and Brett Orlando, of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), agreed about the importance of learning from indigenous knowledge relating to climate.
They added, however, that it was also important the communities have timely access to scientific information about climate change and associated risks such as disease outbreaks.
A number of international funding agencies including the UK Department for International Development, the UN Development Programme, the European Union and Canadian International Development Agency agreed that funding to support community–based adaptation should be a priority. However, no detailed discussion of funding took place.
Developing countries have fewer resources for adapting to and preparing for climate change. This puts them at greater risk that developed nations.
About 80 researchers, policymakers, donors, and staff from non-governmental organisations attended the Dhaka workshop. Those present were mostly from the Asia-Pacific region, although some had also come from Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe.
The workshop was jointly organised by the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, the International Institute for Environment and Development, the Regional and International Networking Group and IUCN, and supported by the development agencies of Canada and the United Kingdom.
Saleemul Huq is chair of the advisory panel on SciDev.Net's climate change dossier