Polluted air is lethal in these parts of the world

Vehicle emissions and traditional cooking methods contribute to air pollution, which causes some seven million deaths a year, a new analysis finds.

This story appears in the October 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Air pollution kills seven million people a year. Two of the chief contributors are lax vehicle emissions standards and traditional cooking methods, according to the findings of a recent World Health Organization analysis of air quality data from more than 4,300 cities in 108 countries.

More than 90 percent of the deaths occur in low- and moderate-income countries where families are more likely to cook with charcoal and kerosene. These materials release pollutants into the air that can cause heart disease, lung cancer, and other health issues.

Urban population growth compounds the problem: Air quality in many of the world’s megacities is five times worse than what WHO recommends. But the organization sees signs of hope in some nations, such as India and Mexico, that are initiating clean energy efforts and stricter vehicle standards.

REGION

AFRICA

EUROPE

NORTH AMERICA

ASIA

South AMERICA

OCEANIA

Most

polluted

city

Least

polluted

city

COUNTRY

Most polluted city per region is labeled.

AIR QUALITY*

UNHEALTHY

GOOD

0 ug/m3

35.5

MODERATE

VERY UNHEALTHY

12

150.5

EPA

standards

WHO recommendation

Countries

ranked

by gross

national

income

per capita

NORWAY

Switzerland

Qatar

Denmark

UNITED STATES

Sweden

Hobart

AUSTRALIA

SINGAPORE

IRELAND

NetherlandS

AUSTRIA

FINLAND

Germany

CANADA

UNITED KINGDOM

BELGIUM

NEW ZEALAND

France

JAPAN

ISRAEL

KUWAIT

ITALY

SOUTH KOREA

SPAIN

SAUDI ARABIA

SLOVENIA

PORTUGAL

GREECE

CzechIA

SLOVakia

URUGUAY

HIGH

INCOME

LITHUANIA

Coyhaique

CHILE

POLAND

LOW-MID

INCOME

HUNGARY

CROATIA

PANAMa

Turkey

COSTA RICA

ROMANIA

MEXICO

BRAZIL

China

LEbanon

Bulgaria

COLOMBIA

PERU

Ecuador

THAILAND

South Africa

IRAN

SERBIA

Bosnia and

Herzegovina

Tuzla

ALBANIA

PARAGUAY

EL SALVADOR

JORDAN

Guatemala City

GEORGIA

Guatemala

Mongolia

PHILIPPINES

INDONESIA

MOROCCO

Kanpur

VIETNAM

INDIA

Pakistan

CAMEROON

Bamenda

KENYA

Bangladesh

SENEGAL

Tanzania

Nepal

UGANDA

Afghanistan

MADAGASCAR

LIBERIA

Countries with more than two million

inhabitants; Data available only for some

cities and countries. *MEAN ANNUAL

CONCENTRATION (μg/m3) OF FINE SUSPENDED

PARTICLES LESS THAN 2.5 MICRONS (PM2.5) IN

DIAMETER. EPA PM2.5 STANDARDS FOR THE AIR

QUALITY INDEX ARE SHOWN FOR COMPARISON.

NGM staff. Sources: World health

organization; world bank

AIR QUALITY*

EPA

standards

VERY UNHEALTHY

GOOD

MODERATE

UNHEALTHY

0 ug/m3

12

35.5

150.5

WHO recommendation

Countries

ranked

by gross

national

income

per capita

NORWAY

Switzerland

Qatar

Denmark

UNITED STATES

Sweden

AUSTRALIA

SINGAPORE

Hobart

IRELAND

NetherlandS

AUSTRIA

FINLAND

Germany

CANADA

UNITED KINGDOM

BELGIUM

NEW ZEALAND

REGION

France

JAPAN

EUROPE

ISRAEL

NORTH AMERICA

KUWAIT

South AMERICA

ITALY

SOUTH KOREA

AFRICA

SPAIN

ASIA

SAUDI ARABIA

OCEANIA

SLOVENIA

PORTUGAL

GREECE

Least

polluted

city

CzechIA

SLOVakia

HIGH

INCOME

URUGUAY

Coyhaique

LITHUANIA

Most

polluted

city

CHILE

POLAND

COUNTRY

HUNGARY

LOW-MID

CROATIA

PANAMa

Most polluted city per region

is labeled.

Turkey

COSTA RICA

ROMANIA

MEXICO

BRAZIL

China

LEbanon

Bulgaria

COLOMBIA

PERU

Ecuador

THAILAND

South Africa

IRAN

SERBIA

Bosnia and

Herzegovina

ALBANIA

Tuzla

PARAGUAY

EL SALVADOR

JORDAN

Guatemala City

GEORGIA

Guatemala

Mongolia

PHILIPPINES

INDONESIA

MOROCCO

Kanpur

VIETNAM

INDIA

Pakistan

CAMEROON

KENYA

Bamenda

Bangladesh

SENEGAL

Tanzania

Nepal

UGANDA

Afghanistan

MADAGASCAR

LIBERIA

Countries with more than two million inhabitants; Data available only

for some cities and countries.  *MEAN ANNUAL CONCENTRATION (μg/m³)

OF FINE SUSPENDED PARTICLES LESS THAN 2.5 MICRONS (PM2.5) IN DIAMETER. EPA PM2.5

STANDARDS FOR THE AIR QUALITY INDEX ARE SHOWN FOR COMPARISON.

NGM staff. Sources: World health organization; world bank

Climate 101: Air Pollution What is air pollution? Learn how greenhouse gases, smog, and toxic pollutants affect climate change, and human health.
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