Objective: This study examined whether a wellbeing approach to resilience and adaptation would provide practical insights for prioritizing support to communities experiencing environmental and socio-economic stressors.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey, based on a purposive sample of 2,196 stakeholders (landholders, hobby farmers, town resident and change agents) from three irrigation-dependent communities in Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin. Respondents’ adaptive capacity and wellbeing (individual and collective adaptive capacity, subjective wellbeing, social support, community connectivity, community leadership, in the context of known life stressors) were examined using chi-square, comparison of mean scores, hierarchical regression and factor-cluster analysis.
Results: Statistically significant correlations (p < 0.05) were observed between individual (0.331) and collective (0.318) adaptive capacity and wellbeing. Taking into account respondents’ self-assessed health and socio-economic circumstances, perceptions of individual (15%) and collective adaptive capacity (10%) as well as community connectivity (13%) were associated with wellbeing (R2 = 0.36; F (9, 2099) = 132.9; p < 0.001). Cluster analysis found that 11% of respondents were particularly vulnerable, reporting below average scores on all indicators, with 56% of these reporting below threshold scores on subjective wellbeing.
Conclusions: Addressing the capacity of individuals to work with others and to adapt to change, serve as important strategies in maintaining wellbeing in communities under stress. The human impacts of exogenous stressors appear to manifest themselves in poorer health outcomes; addressing primary stressors may in turn aid wellbeing. Longitudinal studies are indicated to verify these findings. Wellbeing may serve as a useful and parsimonious proxy measure for resilience and adaptive capacity.