Research on high altitude adaptation

This 3-year project, lasting from 2009 to 2012, was implemented by scientists and researchers from the National Institute of Humanity and Research (NIHR), Japan, in close collaboration with Ladakh Institute of Prevention (LIP) and LEDeG. The project examined how humans have adapted to high-altitude environments physiologically, ecologically and culturally. Project researchers documented the health status of elderly highlanders, and explored possible factors associated with lifestyle-related diseases in this population. Finally, they investigated the impact of modern development over the past 50 years on high altitude lifestyles and environments, and assessed how these changes affect the quality of life (QOL) of elderly highlanders. Study sites were selected from four areas in the Himalaya-Tibet region, the Ladakh region in India, the Arunachal Pradesh State in India, Khaling in Bhutan, and the Qinghai Province in China, each of which has distinct ecological and socioeconomic conditions. Analysis of weather-monitoring data indicated the vulnerability of less vegetated oasis zones to mudflow disasters even with moderate rainfall in Ladakh. On the other hand, health examinations detected fewer mental stresses among disaster victims in Ladakh than in other region. This suggested a psychological coping capacity related to the sense of value and flexible social support in Ladakh.

This project also explored new perspectives on human lifestyle in high-altitude environments where oxygen levels are low and natural resources are limited. The project research focused on aging problems and lifestyle-related diseases, which are regarded as manifestations of global environmental issues evident in the human body. Detailed household interviews and analysis of satellite imagery revealed a recent decrease in the number of livestock, increasing use of chemical fertilizer, and an expanding pattern of abandoned land at Domkhar village in Ladakh. Shortage of fodder, heavy snowfall, and limited access to social services were identified as causes of outmigration of pastoral people from the Changthang highland to Leh city in Ladakh. In Ladakh, researchers assessed the risk of glacial lake collapse, documented damage due to flood and analyzed the role of climate as a cause of natural disaster.