DEEP BREATHS

Every country has terrible air pollution, but these are the world’s worst

Air pollution from industrial activity isn’t just an environmental concern—it’s a major public health problem, too.

In a report (pdf) released Tuesday (Sept. 27), the World Health Organization (WHO) found that 92% of the population breathes air with unhealthy levels of pollutants. WHO collected air quality data from 3,000 locations across the globe and looked for concentrations of fine particulate matter, including sulfates, nitrates, mineral dust, and black carbon, which are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter—about 1/1000 of a millimeter, or the width of a credit card. Both indoors and outdoors, these particles work their way into the lungs when we breathe, and can cause cardiovascular disease like lung cancer, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

According to the report, one in every nine deaths per year—about six million total—can be attributed to breathing in unhealthy concentrations of these particles. The map below shows the median levels of air pollution in entire countries. Of course, within a country there can be a wide range of air pollution levels from location to location, and these measurements tended to be much higher in cities and lower in rural areas. “Safe” levels of fine particulate matter, according to WHO, are about 10 micrograms of particles per cubic meter, but most countries far surpassed those levels.

annual-median-concentration-of-particulate-air-pollution_mapbuilder
Concentrations of fine particulate matter air pollution.

In 2015, reducing health consequences by air pollution was added to the list of sustainable development goals. The table below shows all the median levels of particulate matter in each country where the WHO collected data.

Country Median fine part particulate matter (micrograms per cubic meter)
Saudi Arabia 108
Qatar 103
Egypt 93
Bangladesh 84
Kuwait 75
Cameroon 65
Mauritania 65
Nepal 64
United Arab Emirates 64
India 62
Libya 61
Bahrain 60
Pakistan 60
Niger 59
Uganda 57
China 54
Myanmar 51
Iraq 50
Bhutan 48
Oman 48
Afghanistan 46
Sudan 44
Rwanda 43
Yemen 43
Bosnia and Herzegovina 42
Iran 42
Tajikistan 41
Congo 40
Central African Republic 39
Chad 39
Djibouti 39
Gambia 39
Nigeria 39
Burundi 38
Democratic Republic
of the Congo
38
Burkina Faso 37
Macedonia 37
Cabo Verde 36
Jordan 36
Tunisia 36
El Salvador 35
Eritrea 35
Honduras 35
Senegal 34
Syrian Arab Republic 34
Turkey 34
Equatorial Guinea 33
Guatemala 32
Uzbekistan 32
Benin 31
Ethiopia 30
Gabon 30
Lebanon 30
Mali 29
Nicaragua 29
South Sudan 29
Togo 28
Algeria 27
Angola 27
Bolivia 27
Bulgaria 27
Democratic People’s
Republic of Korea
27
Guinea-Bissau 27
Laos 27
Republic of Korea 27
South Africa 27
Sri Lanka 27
Thailand 27
Peru 26
Viet Nam 26
Turkmenistan 25
Azerbaijan 24
Ghana 24
Poland 24
Cambodia 23
Zambia 23
Belize 22
Côte d’Ivoire 22
Haiti 22
Malawi 22
Montenegro 22
Philippines 22
United Republic
of Tanzania
22
Venezuela 22
Armenia 21
Guinea 21
Hungary 21
Chile 20
Czech Republic 20
Mexico 20
Mongolia 20
Morocco 20
Zimbabwe 20
Croatia 19
Georgia 19
Israel 19
Latvia 19
Romania 19
Serbia 19
Slovakia 19
Costa Rica 18
Lesotho 18
Lithuania 18
Namibia 18
Slovenia 18
Swaziland 18
Belarus 17
Colombia 17
Cuba 17
Cyprus 17
Italy 17
Madagascar 17
Mozambique 17
Republic of Moldova 17
Sierra Leone 17
Singapore 17
Albania 16
Austria 16
Botswana 16
Comoros 16
Dominican Republic 16
Jamaica 16
Kenya 16
Luxembourg 16
Maldives 16
Somalia 16
Suriname 16
Ukraine 16
Belgium 15
Guyana 15
Kazakhstan 15
Kyrgyzstan 15
Malaysia 15
Netherlands 15
Paraguay 15
Russian Federation 15
Saint Lucia 15
Timor-Leste 15
Barbados 14
Germany 14
Grenada 14
Indonesia 14
Malta 14
Mauritius 14
Antigua and Barbuda 13
Argentina 13
Bahamas 13
Dominica 13
Ecuador 13
Japan 13
Saint Vincent 13
Sao Tome and Principe 13
Seychelles 13
Trinidad and Tobago 13
France 12
Greece 12
Panama 12
Switzerland 12
United Kingdom 12
Uruguay 11
Andorra 10
Brazil 10
Denmark 10
Papua New Guinea 10
Ireland 9
Monaco 9
Norway 9
Portugal 9
Spain 9
Estonia 8
Iceland 8
Liberia 8
United States of America 8
Canada 7
Finland 7
Australia 6
Fiji 6
Micronesia 6
Sweden 6
Vanuatu 6
Brunei Darussalam 5
Kiribati 5
New Zealand 5
Solomon Islands 5
Tuvalu no data
Cook Islands no data
Marshall Islands no data
Nauru no data
Niue no data
Palau no data
Saint Kitts and Nevis no data
Samoa no data
San Marino no data
Tonga no data
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