Drought-impacted communities in social-ecological systems: Exploration of different system states in Northeast Brazil

S. Kchouk*, G. Ribeiro Neto, L.A. Melsen, D.W. Walker, L. Cavalcante, R. Gondim, P.R. van Oel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study applies ‘Social-Ecological Systems (SES)’ concepts with the aim of analysing why and how events happening across spatial, jurisdictional, and temporal scales influence droughts and their impacts in rural communities. To trace the evolution of droughts and their impacts on the livelihood system, we conducted a drought diagnosis in the rural community of Riacho da Cruz in the Banabuiú basin in the semi-arid Northeast of Brazil. We analysed how the livelihood of this community reacted differently to drought events and why the impacts of previous drought events either contributed to the adaptation of the livelihood system or its collapse. SES theory helped us posit that it is the collective capacity of stakeholders (nested across the levels of the different spatial, temporal and decisional scales of drought management) to manage their resilience to drought, that determines whether the considered system adapts, collapses or shifts into a new stable state, in response to drought. Monitoring these factors that influence drought resilience could enable the development of drought(-impact) indices that account for the spatial-temporal complexities of drought. Such results can aid in improving the targeting of policies toward drought-affected communities and ensuring they receive the necessary resources. Plain language summary: Drought and drought impacts are difficult to monitor. One reason is that they affect many different areas and groups of people. It is complicated to understand all the ways in which droughts can worsen or how they impact different groups, and why these effects can change over time and in different locations. This is what we investigate in this study using the Social-Ecological Systems (SES) theory. SES theory can help us understand how different parts of society and the environment interact and change over time. This theory can help us understand why certain events happen and how past events can still have an impact on current events. We applied SES theory to the drought-affected rural community of Riacho da Cruz in Northeast Brazil to understand why and how different drought events affected the community's livelihood. Based on our findings, we developed a framework that can help identify some causes of drought impacts on the community's livelihood. We believe that this framework can also be applied to identify and understand the causes of drought impacts in different sectors and locations. Building on the case of the community of Riacho da Cruz, we discuss how the SES theory can help monitor drought more accurately.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104026
JournalInternational Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2023


  • Drought impacts
  • Drought indices
  • Rural livelihoods


Dive into the research topics of 'Drought-impacted communities in social-ecological systems: Exploration of different system states in Northeast Brazil'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this