Nagoya University Global COE Program: From Earth System Science to Basic and Clinical Environmental Studies

BCES

Clinical Environmental Studies

Southeast and South Asia

Nagoya University has already carried out a considerable body of research into the environmental problems of Southeast and South Asia, such as:

  • South Asian monsoon variability
  • Flood forecasting in Bangladesh
  • Environmental changes affecting farming villages in Laos
  • Damage caused by volcanic eruption, earthquake and tsunami in Southeast Asia
  • Environmental changes in Pacific coral reef
  • The Sarawak tropical forest environment
  • Glacial variation in the Himalayas, and Tibet

Case Study: Laos

Forest covers around 70% of the total land-mass of Laos, and the country relies heavily on rainfed rice cultivation. It is a country rich in nature, but in recent years has undergone significant changes as it develops and modernizes. More and more factories are appearing, which both demand - and successfully attract - cheap labor; the forests are being felled to make way for more land for farming. This is exactly the same kind of environmental destruction previously witnessed in other Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand and Vietnam.

The Laotian capital, Vientiane, is surrounded by many small farming villages. The ancient tradition here is of a self-sufficient lifestyle lived in harmony with nature, in which natural resources are found from the forests and the rivers. This is coming into contact, and conflict, with a more modern lifestyle, as has developed under the new market economy. In this way, the farming villages in Laos are faced with a number of problems related to the environment, such as:

  • The conservation and sustainability of natural ecosystems
  • Environmental problems arising from changes in the way land is used
  • Social science-based problems resulting from changes in social frameworks

We can take deforestation as one example of this. Deforestation is the prime example of a "change in the way land is used". Now, there are national subsidies in place, and a policy of tree-planting has been implemented in an attempt to curb the effects of global warming. As part of general environmental policy measures, traditional slash-and-burn agriculture has been deemed illegal, and ever greater volumes of land are being used as continuous farming land for commercial crops. Other problems include the breakup and privatization of previously commonly-owned forest, which has brought about shifts in social structure such as changes in how many people earn a living.

Whilst on the one hand levels of forestation in Laos have been restored and sustained, at the same time water and carbon cycles and native biodiversity are being significantly impacted. So we are now facing the possibility of other, different environmental challenges. This is a perfect example of how the "treatment" arbitrarily prescribed and implemented by so-called developed countries can lead to seriously damaging "side-effects".

Our teams bring together graduate students and faculty members from diverse disciplines to work together with locally-based staff to investigate and discuss each research situation. The aim is to come closer to finding methods of treatment that can be applied to maximum effect, with minimum risk of adverse side-effects. These efforts and findings are crucial to the effective construction of Clinical Environmental Studies.

Specific examples of research issues taken up in Laos including the following:

  1. Impact evaluation of the ban on slash-and-burn agriculture
  2. Evaluation of ecosystems services from Laotian forests
  3. Changes in groundwater levels and salt moment arising from deforestation
  4. Current changes in land use and a simulation of future trends

Laos is not the only country in southeast and south Asia that concerns the GCOE, and we will continue to develop meaningful research themes throughout the region that will contribute to the strengthening of Clinical Environmental Studies as a discipline.

Photo
Agriculture in Luang Phabang province, Laos.
The mosaic landscape is made up of shifting cultivation fields.
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