Top 10 Cities With The Most Polluted Air

5. Quetta, Pakistan

Even more polluted than Peshawar, this city has a measure of 251 ug/m3, making it the most polluted city in a fairly polluted country. Local reports call it a “serious environmental issue for human health” and a panel of experts met in the city after the 2011 index came out, to formulate their “Action Plan for Reducing Air Pollution and Improving Air Quality Management in Quetta City”.

Part of the damage came from 2011 protests by Shiite Muslims, against the Qandhari Imambargah Alamdar Road blasts which killed 81 people. The protests took the form of burning tyres, which is a common form of protest in Pakistan, but is hideously bad for the environment. There have been calls for protesters to use alternative methods of protest, such as lighting candles but as recently as April 2013, the tyre-burning was still occurring. It doesn’t bode well for Quetta’s environmental future.


4. Ludhiana, India

And now to the most polluted city in Pakistan’s rival, India. With an air pollution measure matching Quetta’s, this is another place that faces serious problems in the near future. The Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB) again blames the auto-rickshaws for the pollution, as they run on enviro-unfriendly diesel, but the PPCB have yet to implement a viable alternative, such as a clean-running bus service. In the Times of India, the PPCB chairman Kahan Singh Pannu had this to say: “it’s true that pollution levels in Ludhiana are more than other cities and we taking steps to check it” but then went on to blame other people for the lack of action against the rickshaws.

Air is not the only problem in Ludhiana – the river is also extremely polluted, thanks to run-off from the dyeing industries (pictured above). If Ludhiana is ever going to lose its place as India’s most polluted city, it needs to make some radical changes and fast.


3. Sanandaj, Iran

Another Iranian city that is suffering from both dust storms and heavy industrialization, the air pollution here is 254ug/m3. However, the Iranians are keen to shift the blame – one report from the Fars News Agency puts the blame onto the American forces in neighboring Iraq, who have destroyed the agriculture there and so have caused the dust storms. The head of Iran’s Meteorological Organization, Bahram Sanai, also said that the Allied occupation of Iraq was responsible for the lack of sustainable growth in the country. Whether these theories are true is unclear, but with so many cities in the top 10, it seems that Iran needs to sort out its own problems rather than trying to deflect blame onto the Americans.


2. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Mongolia is the most sparsely populated independent country in the world, so it’s quite surprising that its capital is crowded and very polluted. The Lonely Planet travel guide describes it as “a cauldron of concrete and dirt” and at 279ug/m3 they’re not wrong. The pollution comes from a number of sources – dust from the unpaved roads, emissions from wood-burning stoves and the heavy traffic.

Luckily, the World Bank is helping out with its Ulaanbaatar Clean Air Project, costing a hefty $21.89million. The problems are evident, with birth defects on the increase due to the pollution and the challenges are myriad – Ulaanbaatar’s position in a valley means the air is trapped and can’t circulate properly. Hopefully the World Bank’s project will succeed, as the health consequences of such bad air pollution are frightening.


1. Ahvaz, Iran

If you’ve been paying attention so far, you won’t be surprised to hear that an Iranian city tops the list of most polluted cities. With a whopping 372ug/m3, it is by far the worst air of any city in the world. Again, it’s an unhealthy combination of duststorms and factory emissions. As one report says, “Unusual development and growth of the city, undesired placement of heavy industries, such as iron and steel plants, airport, and exploration of oil wells in a nearby city, in addition to heavy traffic … have made the city like an island of heat and pollution” (Chamran University, 2002).

The extreme temperatures don’t help, with the average high in July a sweltering 115.2F. The city also suffered a series of bombings in 2005, related to the war in Iraq. Iran is a beautiful country in some ways, with many areas of unblemished countryside….but if you’re planning a visit, it’s probably best to give Ahvaz a miss.

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