Skip to navigationSkip to content
DEEP BREATHS

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

A man wearing an air mask walks through downtown Shanghai, China. The sky is filled with smog.
Reuters/Aly Song
Just trying to get a breath of fresh air.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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.

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.

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

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.