Background: Tibet, average altitude more than 4,000 meters, is warming faster than anywhere else in China. The increase in temperatures may aggravate existing health problems and lead to the emergence of new risks. However, there are no actions being taken at present to protect population health due to limited understanding about the range and magnitude of health effects of climate change.
Methods: The study was a cross-sectional survey of 619 respondents from urban Lhasa, Tibet in August 2012 with the aim to investigate public perceptions of risk, heat experiences, and coping resources.
Results: Respondents are aware of the warming that has occurred in Lhasa in recent years. Over 78% reported that rising temperature is either a "very" or "somewhat" serious threat to their own health, and nearly 40% reported they had experienced heat-related symptoms. Sex, age, education and income influenced perceived risks, health status, and heat experience. The vast majority of respondents reported that they had altered their behaviour on hot summer days. Bakuo, a sub-district at the city center, is considered especially vulnerable to heat because of sparse vegetation, high population density, poor dwelling conditions and a high proportion of low-income population. However, neighborhood social ties were stronger in Bakuo than other study locations.
Conclusions: The study suggests that actions are needed now to minimize downside effects of rapid warming in Tibet, because of increasing human exposure to high temperatures and uneven distribution of the resources needed to cope.