According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost the entire global population (99%) breathes air that exceeds WHO air quality limits.
In the map below, Visual Capitalist's Selin Oğuz, Miranda Smith, and Bruno Venditti use 2022 average PM2.5 concentrations from IQAir’s World Air Quality Report to visualize the most air-polluted major cities in the world.
World’s Air Pollution Hot Spots
As one of the standard air quality indicators used by the WHO, the PM2.5 concentration refers to the quantity of fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less in a given volume of air.
Fine particulate matter that is this small can penetrate the lungs when inhaled and enter the bloodstream, affecting all major organs.
Based on annual average PM2.5 concentrations (μg/m³) in 2022, here are the most polluted cities in the world.
|Rank||City||2022 average PM2.5 concentration (μg/m³)|
|1||🇵🇰 Lahore, Pakistan||97.4|
|2||🇨🇳 Hotan, China||94.3|
|3||🇮🇳 Bhiwadi, India||92.7|
|4||🇮🇳 Delhi, India||92.6|
|5||🇵🇰 Peshawar, Pakistan||91.8|
|6||🇮🇳 Darbhanga, India||90.3|
|7||🇮🇳 Asopur, India||90.2|
|8||🇹🇩 N'Djamena, Chad||89.7|
|9||🇮🇳 New Delhi, India||89.1|
|10||🇮🇳 Patna, India||88.9|
|11||🇮🇳 Ghaziabad, India||88.6|
|12||🇮🇳 Dharuhera, India||87.8|
|13||🇮🇶 Baghdad, Iraq||86.7|
|14||🇮🇳 Chapra, India||85.9|
|15||🇮🇳 Muzaffarnagar, India||85.5|
|16||🇵🇰 Faisalabad, Pakistan||84.5|
|17||🇮🇳 Greater Noida, India||83.2|
|18||🇮🇳 Bahadurgarh, India||82.2|
|19||🇮🇳 Faridabad, India||79.7|
|20||🇮🇳 Muzaffarpur, India||79.2|
With numbers these high, the concentration of some or all of the following pollutants are at dangerous levels in these cities:
At the top of the list, Lahore in Pakistan has a combination of high vehicle and industrial emissions, as well as smoke from brick kilns, crop residue, general waste burning, and dust from construction sites.
Air pollution levels can also be impacted by practices such as large-scale tree removal in order to build new roads and buildings.
As a result of its growing population and rapidly expanding industrial sector, India has 14 cities on the list, outpacing China, formerly considered the world’s number one air pollution source.
The only African country on the list, Chad, experienced severe dust storms in 2022 that resulted in an 18% increase in PM2.5 concentration in 2022 compared to the previous year.
The Cost of Poor Air Quality
Poor air quality is one of the leading causes of early deaths worldwide, just behind high blood pressure, tobacco use, and poor diet.
According to a 2020 study by the Health Effects Institute, 6.67 million people died as a result of air pollution in 2019.
In addition to the millions of premature deaths each year, the global cost of health damages associated with air pollution currently sits at $8.1 trillion.