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21 Most Polluted Cities in the World That Might Shock You

When you hear the words “polluted city,” you think of tall, gloomy concrete jungles lined with trash-filled streets. Smoke rises everywhere, and loud honking and choking exhaust pipes, overflowing sewage, and toxic waste leaving endless factories are a nightmare.  

While we’re entering a new age of striving to be more green, sustainable, healthy, and environmentally conscious, many major cities have yet to meet these standards. 

Instead, they offer conditions that could be detrimental to the health of any human being. And the most polluted cities often go hand-in-hand with the most dangerous cities in the world too.  

Scientists determine a city’s pollution by analyzing its Air Quality Index and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution data. 

I’ve compiled this list from 2022/2023 PM2.5 data using sources such as AQI and Smart Air. You can also use the AQI site to see live city rankings. 

1. Dammam, Saudi Arabia 

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

PM2.5: 124.11 µg/m3 

Dammam is a city in Saudi Arabia with a population of 1,252,523 people. According to Smart Air, it is also the most polluted city in the world right now. Being the primary administrative center of the Saudi oil industry, you can see why this city is thick with smog. 

Air pollution is a severe problem, with vehicle emissions being the leading cause. Poor air quality immediately affects individuals with respiratory issues and other health risks, while healthier individuals are prone to long-term effects.

2. Lahore, Pakistan 

Photo by Hamza Gulzar from Pexels

PM2.5: 111.63 µg/m3

Lahore’s huge population is over 13 million, making it the second-largest city in Pakistan. While the crowded conditions can be blamed for the urban activities causing such severe pollution in Lahore, other factors are at play. 

A combination of things causes air pollution. The cutting down of trees for more development, harmful emissions from vehicles, factories, industrial complexes and dust from construction sites are significant contributors. 

3. Begusarai, India

Photo by Yogendra  Singh from Pexels

PM2.5: 108 µg/m3

Being home to the Barauni Thermal Power Station (BTPS), Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) and Barauni Sudha Dairy industries have made this Indian city a hotspot for smog. 

Begusarai’s current PM2.5 concentration is 9.9 times above the recommended limit, according to the World Health Organization (WHO)

With terrible air quality and a hot climate all year round, it doesn’t seem like a pleasant city to health-conscious people. Individuals with lung diseases such as asthma will find breathing comfortably a challenge in this city. 

4. Dhaka, Bangladesh 

Photo by Yogendra  Singh from Pexels

PM2.5: 84.73 µg/m3

Dhaka is the capital and largest city of Bangladesh. This fast-growing metropolis also has a fast-growing air pollution problem, with a PM2.5 concentration 6.1 times above the WHO recommended limit. 

The city is overwhelmed with nearly 17 million inhabitants, with plenty living in one of the many slums (over 5000). Dhaka also has a huge problem with traffic jams and environmental stresses caused by its massive landfills.

It also has many textile and dying businesses, brick kilns, and chemical and cement factories. 

5. Delhi, India 

Photo by Yogendra Singh from Pexels

PM2.5: 84.39 µg/m3

Delhi is a massive metropolitan area and India’s capital territory. This city is notorious for its evergrowing population of 32,066,000 people in 2022. With so many people, pollution is expected, from unhealthy water quality to contaminated soil. 

The air quality in the city is so poor that millions of children who grow up there suffer from irreversible lung damage. This point is supported by the high concentration of PM2.5, which is 4.1 times above the recommended amount. 

6. Muzaffarnagar, India

Photo by Robert  Stokoe from Pexels

PM2.5: 81.35 µg/m3

Muzaffarnagar is known as the sugar bowl of India in the Uttar Pradesh region. This is where you’ll find large sugar, steel and paper industries. While these agricultural industries provide inhabitants with job opportunities, it’s also the main contributor to the city’s poor air quality. 

Wearing a mask in the city is mandatory. Otherwise, you’ll be risking your health. Muzaffarnagar’s PM2.5 concentration is 3.8 times above the recommended amount. 

7. Kashgar, China 

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Photo by Amo on Unsplash

PM2.5: 78 µg/m3

Kashgar has a long history as an important trading centre located between the Pamirs Mountains and a vast desert. This once-isolated oasis has now grown into a bustling city of 711,300 (2019) people. 

Today, the city’s unhealthy air is 4.5 times above the recommended PM2.5 concentration. Stay indoors and use an air purifier if you want to look after your health while living there.  Kashgar has recently been named China’s most polluted city, owing much of its pollution mainly to natural sources.

8. Baghdad, Iraq 

Photo by khezez  | خزاز: from Pexels

PM2.5: 77.62 µg/m3

Baghdad is Iraq’s capital city and is a pillar of Islamic civilization and Arabic culture. Known as one of the world’s greatest cities, Baghdad now faces issues with poverty, corruption, displacement, illiteracy and, ultimately, unhealthy air quality.

Sensitive individuals can start to experience throat irritations and difficulty breathing by being outside. Transportation, dust storms, oil industries, fossil fuels, and energy production are some leading causes of air pollution. 

9. Ghaziabad, India 

Photo by हर्षल from Pexels

PM2.5: 74.72 µg/m3

Ghaziabad is yet another city in India’s Uttar Pradesh region you’d want to avoid for its health risks. Its growing population of 1,729,000 people and a famous Oil Engines industry have contributed to its poor air quality. 

Other contributors include power plants, factories, unpaved roads, construction sites and vehicle emissions. These air pollutants can cause and worsen respiratory diseases such as asthma and lung cancer and are also connected to heart disease.

10. Patna, India 

Photo by Nishant Meena from Pexels

PM2.5: 67.20 µg/m3

Patna is a bustling historic city that sits along the south banks of the Ganges River (which is considered one of the most polluted waterways in the world). This northeast Indian city is the birthplace of popular music genres such as the dhammar, kajli, and Dadra. 

But it is also home to some of the worst air quality in the world, capping 6.7 times above the recommended PM2.5 concentration. This makes a living here severely detrimental to your health, especially for sensitive individuals.

11. Hapur, India 

Photo by Emmet from Pexels

PM2.5: 67.02 µg/m3

Hapur will not give you fresh air. Instead, you’ll get poor air quality, which is 2.3 times above the recommended PM2.5 concentration level. This city is also in the Uttar Pradesh area of India and sits just 60 km (37 miles) above New Delhi. 

Hapur is the manufacturing hub of Stainless Steel Pipes and Tubes. Combine that with its vast population of 13,28,322, and you’re in for some severe pollution. The poor air quality, increased humidity, and ongoing industrial activities make this city uncomfortable.

12. Peshawar, Pakistan 


Photo by Aa Dil from Pexels

PM2.5: 66.15 µg/m3

Peshawar has a population of over 2.3 million people, making it Pakistan’s sixth-largest city. It’s also not the safest and cleanest city to live in due to terrorism, violence and a PM2.5 concentration 6.1 times above the recommended amount. 

The air in Peshawar is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups and can have severe long-term effects on its residents. Industrial and urban activities are significant contributors. The drinking water from various sources in this city has recently been found to contain harmful bacteria, making it unsafe for consumption.     

You might enjoy reading my article on Europe’s most polluted cities.

13. Lucknow, India 


Photo by Alex Fu from Pexels 

PM2.5: 63.65 µg/m3

Contrary to its name, Lucknow is very unlucky in terms of air quality, with a current PM2.5 concentration 5.5 times above the recommended amount. As the capital of Uttar Pradesh, it makes sense why this multicultural city has such a sprawling population (3,945,000 inhabitants this year). 

When visiting Lucknow, keeping your windows closed and wearing masks outside is best. Unchecked vehicle emissions and rampant construction are the two leading causes of the city’s poor air quality. 

14. East London, South Africa 


Photo by Xavier Messina from Pexels

PM2.5: 60.69 µg/m3

East London is a touristy coastal city on the Eastern Cape in South Africa. It’s known for having balmy beaches and rich fossil history, but it has recently been getting recognition for its problematic environmental practices. 

This city has ongoing problems with severe water pollution, intense noise and light pollution, and requires proper garbage disposal services. All these things, plus high levels of carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide, contribute to East London not having the cleanest environment. 

15. Pokhara, Nepal 

pokhara nepal smog over city

Photo by Sadid Morshed from Pexels

PM2.5: 59.15 µg/m3

Pokhara is a beautiful city on the glistening Phewa Lake that features the most stunning views of the Annapurna mountain range. Although stunning from a distance, you’ll find plenty of issues when close-up. 

The glistening Phewa Lake was once so pristine that you could see Mt Machhapuchhare in its reflection. Today the lake is filled with so much microplastic (up to 0.8–8 particles/L in winter). 

Unplanned infrastructure, deforestation, and a poor sewage system are some pollution-causing practices.

16. Chandigarh, India 


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PM2.5: 53.16 µg/m3

Chandigarh is a planned city in northern India nestled in the foothills of the Shivaliks mountain range. This innovative city was designed by the famous French architect Le Corbusier and is now known as one of India’s best experiments. 

However, the city was not immune to intense air pollution. The smog in Chandigarh is so bad that visibility is poor, and the quality of life is deteriorating. The widespread burning of agricultural waste and vehicular emissions are some of the main reasons behind the rise in air pollution.

17. Hawally, Kuwait 


Photo by Pixabay from Pexels 

PM2.5: 52.24 µg/m3

Hawally is on this list due to Kuwait’s extensive oil industry. The entire process, from drilling or fracking to burning fossil fuels, releases an insane amount of air pollution. The city serves as a large suburb and commercial centre for 218,141 (2022 data) individuals. 

Apart from the abundant oil factories and vehicular emissions, the heat and dense dust particles make this city quite unbearable to live in. 

18. Khorramshahr, Iran 


Photo by Pixabay from Pexels 

PM2.5: 51.44 µg/m3

Khorramshahr is an inland port city of Khuzestan Province, Iran, with 170,976 people (2016 census). Between a rapid population increase, a rise in dust storms and dried-up rivers, this city could be more pleasant to live in.

The air pollution in Khorramshahr is mainly caused by dirty fuel used by industrial units and public transport systems. Today, Khorramshahr is one of the most polluted cities in Iran. And along with other Iranian cities, it might have a possible link to why cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the country. 

19. Faridabad, India 


Photo by Yogendra  Singh from Pexels 

PM2.5: 50 µg/m3

Faridabad is the most populous city in the Indian state of Haryana and one of the world’s most polluted cities. With a PM2.5 score that is 3.7 times higher than the recommended limit, it’s not the healthiest place to live in. 

This city is an industrial force, producing significant amounts of refrigerators, tractors, motorcycles, tyres and switch gears. While these industrial activities are good for the economy, unfortunately, the city’s air quality suffers. 

20. Jaipur, India 

Jaipur-India-City-Skyline most polluted cities in the world

Photo by Sagar Soneji from Pexels 

PM2.5: 49.98 µg/m3

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan State and boasts a whopping population of 4.5 million in 2022. With such a large population, urban pollution is bound to be rife. The “pink city” is known for its charming bazaars, stunning palaces, temples and exotic wildlife sanctuaries. 

However, nowadays it’s gaining a bad reputation among environmentalists. That’s because Jaipur’s PM2.5 concentration sits 3.7 times above the recommended limit. Poor road conditions, traffic congestion, and increased urbanisations are the catalysts for poor air quality. 

21. Xi’an, China 


Photo by Pixabay From Pexels 

PM2.5: 48.11 µg/m3

Xi’an is among the many cities in China experiencing severe air pollution. The city relies heavily on coal for urban and industrial activities, releasing many fine particles. Then there are the 2.8 million road users often stuck in traffic jams. 

The city has tried to lessen its pollution through efforts in treating the thermal power plants, but it’s still not safe, to say the least. Some studies show evidence of the link between poor atmospheric conditions and respiratory mortality in Xi’an. 

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