Exploring the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem in Spatial Water Assessments: A Case of Water Shortage in Monsoon Asia

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Water shortage (availability per capita) is a key indicator of vulnerability to water scarcity. Spatial datasets enable the assessment of water shortage on multiple scales. The use of river basins and subbasins as analysis and management units is currently commonplace. An important but less acknowledged fact is that spatial assessments are strongly influenced by the choice of the unit of analysis due to the Modifiable Areal Unit Problem (MAUP). Climate conditions, agricultural activities, and access to groundwater also influence water availability and demand. In this study, a total of 21 different criteria were used to define areal units of analysis, i.e., zonings, for which water shortage was calculated. Focusing on Monsoon Asia, where water scarcity is a pressing problem, we found that zoning had a considerable impact, resulting in up to three-fold differences in the population under high water shortage (<1000 m3/cap/year), ranging from 782 million to 2.11 billion. In most zonings, however, the Indus and Yellow River Basins and northwest parts of India and China are under high water shortage. The study indicates that a multizonal and multiscale analysis is needed to minimize skewed or even misleading information that might be produced when using only one zoning.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)898-917
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2015
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

    Research areas

  • Asia, enviornmental assessments, MAUP, spatial analysis, transboundary river basins, water resources management, Water shortage, vulnerability assessments

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