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Cities and countries with the unhealthiest air

Air pollution kills an estimated 7 million people every year and is the biggest environmental health risk of our time. PHOTO/UN


The 2022 World Air Quality Report released by Swiss air quality technology company IQAir has named countries and cities around the world with the unhealthiest air.

According to the 2022 World Air Quality Report the countries with the worst particulate matter air pollution were: Chad, at 89.7 µg/m3, Iraq at 80.1 µg/m3, Pakistan at 70.9 µg/m3, Bahrain at 66.6 µg/m3 and Bangladesh at 65.8 µg/m3

And the cities that were most polluted in 2022 included; Lahore, Pakistan, at 97.4 µg/m3, Hotan, China, at 94.3 µg/m3, Bhiwadi, India, at 92.7 µg/m3, Delhi, India, at 92.6 µg/m3 and Peshawar, Pakistan, at 91.8 µg/m3.

“Too many people around the world don’t know that they are breathing polluted air,” Senior Air Quality Scientist at Greenpeace International Aidan Farrow said in a press release announcing the data.

Mr Farrow said air pollution monitors provide hard data that can inspire communities to demand change and hold polluters to account, but when monitoring is patchy or unequal, vulnerable communities can be left with no data to act on.

“Everyone deserves to have their health protected from air pollution,” Farrow said.

The air quality report used data from more than 30,000 air quality monitors in 7,323 cities and 131 countries, regions and territories. The data recorded whether or not levels of PM2.5 were above or below the safe level lowered from 10 to five micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) by the WHO in 2021, based on growing scientific evidence of the health risk of this type of pollution, which is small enough to enter the bloodstream from the lungs and damage the heart and other organs. It’s estimated that air pollution exposure causes around seven million early deaths each year.

The fifth annual assessment of particulate matter (PM) 2.5 pollution in cities, nations and regions around the world and found that only six countries met the World Health Organization’s (WHO) updated safe levels of the deadly air pollutant. 

Overall, eight of the 10 most polluted cities were in Central or South Asia, and a total of 118 countries and regions–or 90 percent of those with sufficient data–surpassed the WHO’s new health limits.

The six countries with healthy air according to WHO guidelines were Australia, Estonia, Finland, Grenada, Iceland and New Zealand. They were joined by seven territories in the Pacific and Caribbean, according to CNN.

The data comes about a week after another study found that more than 99 percent of the world’s population was breathing unhealthy air. However, that study added machine learning to fill in the gaps from on-the-ground monitoring.

IQAir noted that gaps in monitoring remain, which is a major environmental justice issue, since more than 90 percent of air pollution deaths happen in low or middle income countries. For example, while monitoring in Africa increased by seven countries from 2021 to 2022, that still meant only 19 of the continent’s 54 countries were covered. Further, only 156 stations produced readings on the continent. 

“With the only real-time, publicly available source of air quality data for the entire country of Chad being provided by a single air quality monitor in the city of N’Djamena, this year the spotlight on global air quality data coverage disparities shines bright on the continent of Africa,” IQAir wrote in an executive summary.

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