Pollution and instability: The real cost of living in some of the world’s cheapest cities

Cheap but less liveable.
Cheap but less liveable.
Image: EPA/Jagadeesh NV
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If you are a Bengaluru resident and have been feeling the pinch of inflation, we have a surprise: India’s Silicon Valley is actually relatively cheap to live in.

After Almaty in Kazakhstan and Lagos in Nigeria, Bengaluru ranks third among the world’s 10 cheapest cities to live in, according to a new report by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit. Also among the top 10 are India’s other metropolises: Chennai, Mumbai, and New Delhi.

Here’s the full list:

The report, titled Worldwide Cost of Living 2017, compared the prices of 160 different products and services, such as food and drink, clothing, rental costs, transport, and utility bills, in 133 cities. For the fourth year in a row, Singapore ranked as the most expensive, followed by Hong Kong and Zurich.

Though the report noted that India is embarking on a period of rapid expansion, even as China slows down, it said the country’s relatively cheaper prices aren’t likely to change anytime soon.

“Income inequality means that low wages proliferate, driving down household spending and creating many tiers of pricing, as well as strong competition from a range of retail sources,” the report said. “This, combined with a cheap and plentiful supply of goods into cities from rural producers with short supply chains, as well as government subsidies on some products, has kept prices down, especially by Western standards.”

Moreover, in a section titled “Cheap but not always cheerful,” the study also attributed the affordability of many of the world’s cheapest cities to the effects of unstable conditions.

“As Lagos and Almaty prove, an increasing number of locations are becoming cheaper because of the impact of political or economic disruption,” the study said. “Although the Indian subcontinent remains structurally cheap, instability is becoming an increasingly prominent factor in lowering the relative cost of living of a location. This means that there is a considerable element of risk in some of the world’s cheapest cities.”

In fact, the bigger risk in India’s cities is most certainly health-related: Almost all the metropolises that feature on the list are currently battling alarming levels of pollution, making one of the report’s concluding remarks painfully apt:

“Put simply, cheaper cities tend also to be less liveable.”