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Multi-dimensional well-being associated with economic dependence on ecosystem services in deltaic social-ecological systems of Bangladesh

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Helen Adams, W. Neil Adger, Sate Ahmad, Ali Ahmed, Dilruba Begum, Zoe Matthews, Mohammed Mofizur Rahman, Kristine Nilsen, Georgina Grace Gurney, Peter Kim Streatfield

Original languageEnglish
JournalRegional environmental change
Accepted/In press17 Feb 2020

King's Authors


While the benefits humans gain from ecosystem functions and processes are critical in natural resource-dependent societies with persistent poverty, ecosystem services as a pathway out of poverty remains an elusive goal, contingent on the ecosystem and mediated by social processes. Here we investigate three emerging dimensions of the ecosystem services-poverty relationship: economic contribution of provisioning ecosystem services to the household livelihood mix; social-ecological systems producing different bundles of ecosystem services; and material wealth versus reported life satisfaction. We analyse these relationships in Bangladesh, using data from a bespoke 1586-household survey, stratified by seven social-ecological systems in the delta coastal region. We create poverty lines to ensure comparability with traditional poverty measures that overlook environmental factors and subjective measurements of well-being. We find that any contribution of ecosystem services-based income to the livelihood mix decreases the likelihood of the incidence of poverty, and of individuals reporting dissatisfaction. We find no relationship between the incidence of material poverty and the specific social-ecological systems, from agriculture to fisheries-dominated systems. However, the probability of the household head being dissatisfied was significantly associated with social-ecological system. Individuals living in areas dominated by export-oriented shrimp aquaculture reported lower levels of life satisfaction as an element of their perceived well-being. These results highlight the need for social policy on poverty that accounts for the diversity of outcomes across social-ecological systems, including subjective as well as material dimensions of well-being. National poverty reduction that degrades ecosystem services can have negative implications for the subjective well-being of local populations.

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