Cities With The Worst Air Quality

Peshawar, Pakistan ranks second in terms of poorest air quality in the world. Editorial credit: Dave Primov /
Peshawar, Pakistan ranks second in terms of poorest air quality in the world. Editorial credit: Dave Primov /

Air pollution, especially in urban areas, is a major challenge to healthy living. It remains one of the greatest environmental risks to health with over 3 million people dying prematurely every year as a result. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 80% of the people living in the urban area around the globe are exposed to high levels of air pollution, with the majority of the cities in lower and middle-income countries at greater risk. The polluted air contains a high level of dangerous particulate matters (PM10 and PM2.5) that can easily find their way into the human bloodstream through the lungs. Air pollution is mainly caused by industrial emissions, combustion of fossil fuel, farming activities such as the use of chemicals, and household emission.

Top Cities and Countries For Poor Air Quality


Nigeria hosts some of the cities with the worst PM10 levels. Four of the thirty cities with the worst air quality in the world are in Nigeria. Onitsha is the city with the worst air quality in the world. The air in the city is filled with small particulate matter (PM10) concentration. The booming port city located in southern Nigeria recorded an annual mean of 594 ug/m3, 30 times more than the required standard by the WHO. The other three cities are Kaduna which is ranked fifth with an annual mean PM10 of 423 ug/m3, Aba ranked 6th with 373 ug/m3, and Umuahia at 16th position with 274 ug/m3. The air pollution in these cities results from the over-reliance on solid fuel, burning waste, and traffic emissions from old vehicles.


Air pollution situation in Pakistan is causing about 20,000 premature deaths annually. Peshawar city has the highest concentration of small particulate matter in the country and only second to Onitsha (Nigeria) with an annual mean PM10 of 540 ug/m3. It is followed by Rawalpindi in 4th position with a mean of 448 ug/m3, Karachi in 14th with 290 ug/m3, and Islamabad at position 27th with a mean of 217 ug/m3. Air pollution in these cities is as a result of ongoing motorization, the improper combustion of wastage, industrial emissions, and the ongoing construction work that causes intense dust. As a result, 60,000 people died with the most deaths being recorded in Peshawar.


India has the worst air quality in the world with 7 Indian cities ranking in the top 30 for worst air quality. Most of its urban cities and rural areas with a high population have recorded high air pollution levels recently. Gwalior has the worst air quality in the country and the 10th city in the world with an annual mean PM10 of 329 ug/m3. The particulate matter that fills the air is mainly from burning garbage and fossil fuels. Other cities in India with unsafe air include Allahabad at position 12 globally, Raipur in 17th, Delhi in 25th, Ludhiana in 26th, Kanpur in 28th, and Khanna in 29th. Major causes of air pollution include emissions from traffic, industrial gases, and improper waste management.

Negative Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution is one of the leading causes of chronic respiratory diseases and lung cancer. It also causes heart diseases and damages the nervous system. Several millions of people die annually because of the effects of inhaling contaminated air. Air pollution also leads to the formation of acid rain when raindrops come into contact with toxic gases in the air. The acid rain destroys destroy plants, leading to insufficient food for herbivores. Other effects include depletion of the ozone layer which exposes the Earth to global warming and also blocks plants respiration.

Cities With The Worst Air Quality In The World

RankCity/TownCountyAnnual mean PM10, ug/m3
7RiyadhSaudi Arabia368
8Al JubailSaudi Arabia359
9Mazar-e SharifAfghanistan334
11Hamad TownBahrain318
15DammamSaudi Arabia286
21Ras HayanBahrain250
22Nabih SalehBahrain244
24YenbuSaudi Arabia230

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