Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 315–346 | Cite as

Modelling livelihoods and household resilience to droughts using Bayesian networks

  • Wendy S. Merritt
  • Brendan Patch
  • V. Ratna Reddy
  • Geoffrey J. Syme


Over the last four decades, the Indian government has been investing heavily in watershed development (WSD) programmes that are intended to improve the livelihoods of rural agrarian communities and maintain or improve natural resource condition. Given the massive investment in WSD in India, and the recent shift from micro-scale programmes (<500 ha) to meso-scale (~5000 ha) clusters, robust methodological frameworks are needed to measure and analyse impacts of interventions across landscapes as well as between and within communities. In this paper, the sustainable livelihoods framework is implemented using Bayesian networks (BNs) to develop models of drought resilience and household livelihoods. Analysis of the natural capital component model provides little evidence that watershed development has influenced household resilience to drought and indicators of natural capital, beyond an increased area of irrigation due to greater access to groundwater. BNs have proved a valuable tool for implementing the sustainable livelihoods framework in a retrospective evaluation of implemented WSD programmes. Many of the challenges of evaluating watershed interventions using BNs are the same as for other analytical approaches. These are reliance on retrospective studies, identification and measurement of relevant indicators and isolating intervention impacts from contemporaneous events. The establishment of core biophysical and socio-economic indicators measured through longitudinal household surveys and monitoring programmes will be critical to the success of BNs as an evaluation tool for meso-scale WSD.


Bayesian networks (BN) Watershed development (WSD) Sustainable livelihoods Natural capital Drought resilience 



The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded the ‘Impacts of meso-scale Watershed Development in Andhra Pradesh (India) and their implications for designing and implementing improved WSD policies and programs’ project (LWR/2006/072) under which this research was undertaken. The authors would like to thank the households who kindly gave up their time to answer the comprehensive surveys, the two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier versions of this paper and Clive Hilliker for his assistance in the preparation of the figures in this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wendy S. Merritt
    • 1
  • Brendan Patch
    • 2
    • 3
  • V. Ratna Reddy
    • 4
  • Geoffrey J. Syme
    • 5
  1. 1.Fenner School of Environment and SocietyThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.School of Mathematics and PhysicsThe University of QueenslandSt LuciaAustralia
  3. 3.Korteweg-de Vries Institute for MathematicsUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Livelihoods and Natural Resource Management Institute (LNRMI)HyderabadIndia
  5. 5.Centre for PlanningEdith Cowan UniversityJoondalupAustralia

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