Managing risk, changing aspirations and household dynamics: implications for wellbeing and adaptation in semi-arid Africa and India

Nitya Rao, Chandni Singh, Divya Solomon, Laura Camfield, Rahina Sidiki, Margaret Angula, Prathigna Poonacha, Amadou Sidibe, Elaine T. Lawson

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Semi-arid regions across Africa and Asia are characterized by rapidly changing biophysical regimes, structural vulnerabilities, and increasing livelihood precarity. Gender, class, and caste/ethnic identities and relationships, and the specific social, economic and political power, roles and responsibilities they entail, shape the choices and decisions open to individuals and households in managing the risks they face. Unpacking the multiple, intersecting inequalities confronting rural populations in these climate hotspots is therefore vital to understand how risk can be managed in a way that supports effective, inclusive, and sustainable local adaptation. Drawing on empirical evidence from six countries, generated through a mixed methods approach, we examine how changes in household dynamics, structure, and aspirations, shape risk management with implications for household well-being, adaptive capacity, and ultimately sustainable development. The ability of individuals within households, differentiated by age, marital status, or education, to manipulate the very structure of the household and the material and social resources it offers, differentiates risk management strategies such as livelihood diversification, migration, changing agricultural practices and leveraging social support. Our evidence suggests that while greater risks can drive conflictive behavior within households, with women often reporting lower subjective wellbeing, new forms of cooperative behavior are also emerging, especially in peri-urban spaces. Through this study, we identify entry points into enabling sustainable and inclusive adaptation behavior, emphasizing that interventions should work for both women and men by challenging inequitable social and gender norms and renegotiating the domains of work and cooperation to maintain overall household wellbeing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104667
Number of pages35
JournalWorld Development
Early online date9 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • gender
  • adaptation
  • household dynamics
  • wellbeing
  • aspirations
  • risk management

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