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The 20 Most Polluted Cities in the World

Do you think the pollution in Beijing is the worst in the world? This list might surprise you. Find out the top 20 Most Polluted Cities in the World.

most polluted cities

In our age, pollution has become so bad that in some places, literally breathing air can be dangerous for health.

Throughout human existence, people seem to have forgotten that caring for the planet and not polluting it should be the top priority. Nature itself has given us everything, and if we keep destroying it, there’ll come a day when we won’t be able to live on this earth.

Unfortunately, everything seems to be leading to the worst as the pollution level in many cities keeps getting higher. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution has increased by 8% worldwide in the last 5 years, resulting in about 3 million premature deaths yearly.

According to the WHO, an annual average concentration of particular matter (PM) across 3000 cities in 103 countries is highly toxic. The reasons vary, but whatever the case, the more polluted the air, the higher the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.

Below you can find 20 of the most polluted cities in the world, most of which are in the Middle East, China, and India. But if you think Beijing is the worst city on earth, you are wrong: it doesn’t even make it to the top 20.

Please remember that this ranking differs from the one developed by Greenpeace because it does not only consider air quality. If we consider only this factor, Indis is the most polluted country in the world.

1. Onitsha, Nigeria

Well, for an African city, Onitsha is highly industrialized, resulting in increasing levels of air pollution. In this city, the air quality is 30 times worse than the limit stated by the World Health Organization. What contributed to these pollution levels are construction sites, traffic, diesel smoke, and deficiency in proper waste disposal methods.

2. Peshawar, Pakistan

pollution in peshawar

Pakistan is a country where many cities have unacceptable levels of pollution. Peshawar is the second most polluted city in the world after Onitsha. Carbon dioxide emission reaches a dangerous amount of 23 particles per million while the boundary determined by the World Health Organization is 10 ppm.

3. Linfen, China

China seems to be leading the list of countries with polluted air, though it’s practically the only one that has taken action to improve the air quality, and these actions have shown good results in the last few years. However, it still has major air pollution problems in one of its cities, Linfen, which is why it appears on this list.

While you would think that the most polluted city in China must be Beijing, Linfen is worse. This city is situated right at the heart of China’s coal industry. What’s more ironic is that Linfen was once known as “the fruit and flower town” while now it has so bad polluted air that, as estimated, breathing it equals smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day.

4. Chernobyl, Ukraine

pollution chernobyl

It’s probably been expected that the notorious Chornobyl would be included in this list. Even though so many years have passed after the infamous nuclear disaster of 1986, the air in Chornobyl remains threatening to health. The city is mostly uninhabited, but the radioactive material remains in the soil.

5. Rawalpindi, Pakistan

I don’t recommend a visit to this Pakistani city, especially if you have respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Rawalpindi is known for its steel rolling mills, leather tanning facilities, marble factories, and oil refineries, all of which have their “contribution” to the high level of air pollution there.

6. Zabol, Iran

Where there is extreme poverty, pollution is an unavoidable thing. Zabol, a city in the Eastern part of Iran, is known for its high poverty and pollution. The city has to face the so-called “120 days of wind, ” resulting in great amounts of dust covering the whole area. Zabol also has the largest degree of PM thus resulting in extremely bad pollution, making it hard for people to live, let alone stay healthy.

7. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

The country’s largest city, Riyadh, is also considered its dirtiest spot. High industrial waste and heavy traffic pollute the air with dangerous chemicals, and nature contributes to it by bringing frequent sandstorms to the city. The good thing is that local institutions such as the Ministry of Health, the National Water Co., and the Higher Commission of Development of Riyadh have decided to start taking practical and realistic actions to reduce pollution.

8. Kabwe, Zambia

This Zambian city has high amounts of lead pollution, which has resulted in about 300.000 people being affected by it every day. The worst thing is that children are especially vulnerable. All the lead mining, smelting, and tannery operations which dispose of waste in highly improper ways have completely changed the earth and air condition of the city within the last 90 years, making it so polluted that there is very little hope that it will be possible to have a clean air one day again.

9. Dzershinsk, Russia

Dzershinsk is a former chemical and biological weapons manufacturing city. From the 1930s until the 1990s, the Soviet Union released nearly 300.000 tons of chemical waste in and around this Russian city without taking into consideration the fact that Dzershinsk had a population of about 245.000 at that time. The results and consequences are still worrying today, although the Russian government is trying to take action by funding the cleaning of the city.

10. New Delhi, India

This list wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include Indian cities. India is quite “famous” for high pollution levels and contaminated air. Even though many other cities in the country are getting worse every year, New Delhi is still the worst. The smog level in New Delhi is frequently 5 times above what would be considered healthy. In addition to this, a thick layer of smoke is often seen hanging over the city.

11. Kaduna, Nigeria

Here is Nigeria again, with another of its cities known for high degrees of air pollution. Kaduna is situated in the country’s northwestern part, and the PM in its air has long surpassed acceptable levels. The whole of Nigeria can be considered polluted: as of a 2015 World Bank report, 94% of Nigeria’s population is under the threat of air pollution.

12. Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan

Being the third-largest city in Afghanistan, Mazar-e-Sharif is also one of the most polluted, if not the most polluted, cities in the country. The city has a high concentration of PM and a variety of dangerous chemicals that together result in poor and unhealthy air quality.

13. Gwalior, India

Here is another Indian city known worldwide for its high levels of air pollution. The amount of PM concentration in the city is 329 mg per cubic meter, much higher than the benchmark of 60 mg estimated by the WHO. Air pollution levels keep increasing for several reasons, such as uncontrolled and badly managed automobile emissions and the high population density.

14. Allahabad, India

India is currently the most polluted country on earth, as the number of cities with high pollution levels is increasing yearly. PM concentration here is about 317 mg per cubic meter, meaning that this city is not very far behind Gwalior. The health of the population keeps worsening, as well as the number of people with lung cancer.

15. Tetovo, Macedonia

For a moment, let’s move away from the Middle East and Asia and talk about Europe because the Old Continent is far from perfect. Tetovo is probably the most polluted and contaminated city in Europe. It lacks both breathable air and drinkable water. Industrial waste has been dumped into the water for years, and the air quality is also awful. Mountains surround Tetovo, and pollution keeps increasing. When I visited Macedonia, I noticed that the country, in general, seems to be quite polluted.

16. Cairo, Egypt

Time and people have turned this ancient and richly cultured city into one of the most polluted spots in the world. Nearly 35.000 people die annually because of the low quality of the air. The heavy traffic, industrial toxins. and the desert dust has resulted in high amounts of emissions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and other pollutants.

17. Lima, Peru

Let’s move to South America, where one of its most famous cities, Lima, Peru’s capital, is far from healthy air quality. The air quality is worsening mostly because of the fumes emitted by public transport. According to official data, nearly 5000 people died from polluted and contaminated air during the 2007-2011 period.

18. Shijiazhuang, China

Despite the efforts to clean up the country, China remains famous for having several cities with an unacceptable level of air quality. This is mainly because the country has many old industrial plants and factories. One of those cities is Shijiazhuang, located in the Northern part of the country. The city is home to a number of steel and cement plants that utilize coal, thus causing high amounts of air pollution.

19. Bushehr, Iran

This coastal Iranian city is also known for its poor air quality. The main reason is that Bushehr is home to the Middle East’s first civilian nuclear plant, which causes high water contamination levels. Not to mention that PM levels there have also long exceeded the amount considered healthy according to the WHO.

20. Accra, Ghana

The last city on the list with the most polluted air in the world is Accra. Also, in this area, the main problem is improper disposal of waste material, particularly old electronic devices. The toxic fumes emitted due to the wrong disposal of those devices have completely polluted the air. An estimated amount of 129.000 tons of waste is disposed of annually. This waste is often burnt in an attempt to collect the copper. Lead and mercury released into the atmosphere have contaminated and polluted the air, thus affecting the 250.000 residents of the city.

In this article, I mentioned only 20 of the most polluted cities in the world. However, most remain out of the spotlight. Air pollution is a problem for all of us, not only for the places mentioned above. If WE don’t start taking this problem seriously and take practical action, WE might soon have to live in a world with unbreathable air and undrinkable water.

Have you been to one of these cities? Where’s the most polluted place you have ever visited?

If you need inspiration for some good places to visit, don’t miss this post: The top 50 places to travel this year.

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