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The World’s Most Polluted Cities

Rankings of the world’s most polluted cities are ever-changing. Kuwait City could be the most polluted city one week, only to have the undesirable top spot taken by Delhi, India in the following week. However as dynamic as the placings may be, one thing tends to be consistent; being among the most polluted cities in the world isn’t a good look. It’s harmful to the population’s health, it deters tourism and it even discourages efficient investment.

IQAir, which operates the world’s largest real-time air quality information platform, publishes rankings of the world’s most polluted cities. As of the publishing of this post, the most polluted cities are:

  1. Kuwait City, Kuwait
  2. Jakarta, Indonesia
  3. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  4. Doha, Qatar
  5. Baghdad, Iraq
  6. Delhi, India
  7. Lahore, Pakistan
  8. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
  9. Hanoi, Vietnam
  10. Lima, Peru

Asia holds the lion’s share of the world’s most polluted cities, having highly polluted cities concentrated in the Middle East, South East Asia and the Subcontinental region. A point to note is that IQAir’s Air Quality Rankings doesn’t include all the cities in the world. Instead the list contains 1 or 2 cities per country “with the goal of providing a worldwide context about the air quality for those cities”.

For a more comprehensive look at the world’s most polluted cities, IQAir also ranks cities using data for the past few years based on annual average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³). Using historical data from 2017-2022, the world’s most polluted cities are:

  1. Lahore, Pakistan
  2. Hotan, China
  3. Bhiwadi, India
  4. Delhi (NCT), India
  5. Peshawar, Pakistan
  6. Darbhanga, India
  7. Asopur, India
  8. N’Djamena, Chad
  9. New Delhi, India
  10. Patna, India

Having a score of over 50.1 means that the air quality of a city exceeds acceptable pollution standards set by the World Health Organization’s guidelines by over 10 times. To put things in perspective, Lahore, Pakistan has a score of 97.4; a worrying prospect when the WHO states that “The burden of disease attributable to air pollution is now estimated to be on a par with other major global health risks such as unhealthy diets and tobacco smoking.” It’s also easy to notice India’s cities are overrepresented in the top 10.

In recent years, the most polluted countries/regions have been:

  1. Chad
  2. Iraq
  3. Pakistan
  4. Bahrain
  5. Bangladesh
  6. Burkina Faso
  7. Kuwait
  8. India
  9. Egypt
  10. Tajikistan
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