The world's worst polluted cities are in Asia, and 83 of them are in just one country

Hong Kong

All but one of the 100 cities with the worst air pollution in the world last year were in Asia. According to a new reportThe climate crisis plays a pivotal role in poor air quality that threatens the health of billions of people around the world.

The vast majority of these cities — 83 — were in India and all of them exceeded World Health Organization air quality guidelines by more than 10 times, according to Report from IQAirwhich tracks air quality around the world.

The study looked specifically at fine particulate matter, or PM2.5, which are the smallest pollutants but also the most dangerous. Globally recorded air quality analyzed only 9% of more than 7,800 cities meet WHO standards, which stipulate that average annual levels of PM2.5 particles should not exceed 5 micrograms per cubic meter.

“We see that air pollution has an impact in every part of our lives,” said Frank Hames, CEO of IQAir Global. “Typically, in some of the most polluted countries, this would shave three to six years off people's lives. Before that, it would lead to many years of suffering that could be completely prevented if the air quality was better.”

When inhaled, PM2.5 travels deep into the lung tissue where it can enter the bloodstream. It comes from sources such as fossil fuel combustion, dust storms, and forest fires, and has been linked to it asthma, heart and lung diseases, Cancer, and others respiratory system diseases, As well as cognitive impairment in children.

Begusarai, a city of half a million people in the northern Indian state of Bihar, was the most polluted city in the world last year with an average annual concentration of PM2.5 particles of 118.9, 23 times more than World Health Organization guidelines. It is followed in the IQAir rankings by the Indian cities of Guwahati, Assam; Delhi; And Mulanpur in Punjab.

Across India, 1.3 billion people, or 96% of the population, live with air quality seven times higher than WHO guidelines, according to the report.

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The worst performing regions globally were Central and South Asia, which were home to the four most polluted countries last year: Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Tajikistan.

South Asia is of particular concern, as 29 of the 30 most polluted cities are in India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. The report ranked the main population centers of Lahore in fifth place, New Delhi in sixth place, and Dhaka in twenty-fourth place.

Hames said a significant improvement in pollution levels in the area was unlikely without “significant changes in terms of energy infrastructure and agricultural practices.”

“What's also concerning in many parts of the world is that the things that cause outdoor air pollution are also sometimes the things that cause indoor air pollution,” he added. “So cooking with dirty fuels will create indoor exposures that may be multiples of what you see outside.”

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IQAir found that 92.5% of 7,812 locations in 134 countries, regions and territories where it analyzed average air quality last year exceeded WHO PM2.5 guidelines.

Only 10 countries and territories have “healthy” air quality: Finland, Estonia, Puerto Rico, Australia, New Zealand, Bermuda, Grenada, Iceland, Mauritius, and French Polynesia.

Millions of people die every year due to health problems related to air pollution. Air pollution from fossil fuels kills 5.1 million people worldwide every year, according to a recent report Stady Published in BMJ in November. while, Who says that? 6.7 million people die annually from the combined effects of ambient and household air pollution.

The IQAir report said the human-caused climate crisis, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, plays a “pivotal” role in affecting air pollution levels.

The climate crisis is changing weather patterns, leading to changes in wind and rainfall, which affects the spread of pollutants. She added that climate change will only worsen pollution as extreme heat becomes more intense and frequent.

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The climate crisis is also leading to more severe wildfires in many regions and longer and more intense pollen seasons, both of which exacerbate health problems linked to air pollution.

“We have such a strong overlap between what is causing our climate crisis and what is causing air pollution,” Hames said. “Anything we can do to reduce air pollution will also have a huge impact in the long term to improve our climate gas emissions, and vice versa.”

North America was hit hard by wildfires that broke out in Canada from May to October last year. The report found that in May, average monthly air pollution in Alberta was nine times greater than the same month in 2022.

For the first time, Canada has surpassed the United States in regional pollution rankings.

Wildfires also affected US cities such as Minneapolis and Detroit, where average annual pollution rose by 30% to 50% compared to the previous year. The most polluted major American city in 2023 was Columbus, Ohio, for the second year in a row. But the report said major cities like Portland, Seattle and Los Angeles saw significant declines in average annual pollution levels.

But in Asia, pollution levels have rebounded in much of the region.

The report found that China has reversed a five-year trend of declining pollution levels. Chinese cities were dominant Global rankings It has some of the worst air quality in the world, but a range of clean air policies over the past decade have turned things around.

A study conducted last year found that the campaign means that the average lifespan of a Chinese citizen is now 2.2 years longer. But thick smog returned to Beijing last year, with citizens seeing a 14% increase in annual average PM2.5 concentration, according to an IQAir report. Hotan, the most polluted city in China, was listed at number 14 in the IQAir ranking.

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The report found that in Southeast Asia, only the Philippines saw a decline in annual pollution levels compared to the previous year.

Indonesia was the most polluted country in the region, with a 20% increase compared to 2022. According to the report, cities in Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand exceeded WHO PM2.5 guidelines by more than 10 times.

Last month, Thai authorities ordered government employees to work from home due to unhealthy levels of pollution in the capital, Bangkok, and its surrounding areas, according to Reuters. Chiang Mai, a popular tourist hotspot, on Friday became the most polluted city in the world, as toxic smog caused by seasonal agricultural fires blanketed the northern city.

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Inequality…and one bright spot

The report also highlighted a worrying inequity: the lack of monitoring stations in countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East, leading to a scarcity of air quality data in those regions.

Although Africa has seen an improvement in the number of countries included in this year's report compared to previous years, the continent remains largely under-represented. According to IQAir, only 24 out of 54 African countries have sufficient data available from their monitoring stations.

Seven African countries were among the new locations included in the 2023 rankings, including Burkina Faso, the world's fifth most polluted country, and Rwanda, in 15th place.

Several countries that ranked highly on last year's most polluted list are not included for 2023 due to a lack of available data. These countries include Chad, which was the most polluted country in 2022.

“There's still a lot of hidden air pollution on the planet,” Hames said.

One bright spot is increasing pressure and civic engagement from communities, NGOs, businesses and scientists to monitor air quality.

“Ultimately, this is great because it shows governments that people really care,” Hames said.

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