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29 Most Polluted Cities in the World | Current Rankings

When you see the words “polluted city,” the imagery of tall, gloomy concrete jungles lined with trash-filled streets come to mind. Smoke rising everywhere, loud honking, choking exhaust pipes, overflowed sewages, and toxic waste leaving endless factories—it’s a nightmare.  

While we’re entering a new age of striving to be more green, sustainable, healthy and environmentally conscious—many major cities haven’t caught up to these standards yet. 

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.  

Before you make your next move or trip to a new city, it would benefit you to know how polluted it actually is. I suggest you grab your air purifier and masks; I’m revealing the most polluted cities in the world! 

What Makes A City Polluted? 


Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

They are densely populated. And all these people have to drive to work, cook, use electricity, buy groceries, etc. These are everyday urban activities. Or they may be located in a country with high pollution levels.

But that’s not all. Agricultural activities from surrounding rural areas also contribute to pollution. Add to this any industrial activity, power plants, oil refineries and factories.

There are so many that if I had to name every contributor, you’d be reliving those long Geography lessons at school.

How Are These Polluted Cities Ranked?

Before we dive in, let’s look at how these cities have made it on this list. 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. 

29 Most Polluted Cities in the World

1. Dammam, Saudi Arabia 

PM2.5: 124.11 µg/m3 


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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.

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2. Lahore, Pakistan 

PM2.5: 111.63 µg/m3


Photo by Hamza Gulzar from Pexels 

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

PM2.5: 108 µg/m3


Photo by Yogendra  Singh from Pexels

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 anyone who is health conscious. Individuals with lung diseases such as asthma will find breathing comfortably a challenge in this city. 

4. Dhaka, Bangladesh 

PM2.5: 84.73 µg/m3


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

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’s also home to many textile and dying businesses, brick kilns, and chemical and cement factories. 

5. Delhi, India 

PM2.5: 84.39 µg/m3


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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 here is so poor that millions of children who grow up in the city 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

PM2.5: 81.35 µg/m3


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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. 

You might enjoy reading my article on the most polluted cities in the United States.

7. Kashgar, China 

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 

PM2.5: 77.62 µg/m3


Photo by khezez  | خزاز: from Pexels

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 

PM2.5: 74.72 µg/m3


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

PM2.5: 67.20 µg/m3


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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 

PM2.5: 67.02 µg/m3


Photo by Emmet from Pexels

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 an uncomfortable place to live.

12. Peshawar, Pakistan 

PM2.5: 66.15 µg/m3


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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 

PM2.5: 63.65 µg/m3


Photo by Alex Fu from Pexels 

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 

PM2.5: 60.69 µg/m3


Photo by Xavier Messina from Pexels

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 

PM2.5: 59.15 µg/m3

pokhara nepal smog over city

Photo by Sadid Morshed from Pexels

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. Manama, Bahrain 

PM2.5: 57.38 µg/m3

Manama is the capital of the gulf island nation Bahrain. The city is home to over 708,882 inhabitants and is a financial hub with a large retail sector. The country’s annual PM2.5 concentration levels are far above the recommended limit, making it unhealthy to live in. 

There are multiple reasons for Manama’s high pollution levels, but sandstorms, fertiliser manufacturing and industrial emissions are at the forefront. Individuals at risk may feel immediate adverse health effects. 

17. Chandigarh, India 

PM2.5: 53.16 µg/m3


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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.

18. Hawally, Kuwait 

PM2.5: 52.24 µg/m3


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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. 

19. Khorramshahr, Iran 

PM2.5: 51.44 µg/m3


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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. 

20. Faridabad, India 

PM2.5: 50 µg/m3


Photo by Yogendra  Singh from Pexels 

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. 

21. Jaipur, India 

PM2.5: 49.98 µg/m3

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

Photo by Sagar Soneji from Pexels 

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. 

22. Xi’an, China 

PM2.5: 48.11 µg/m3


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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. 

23. Kolkata, India 

PM2.5: 46.77 µg/m3


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It’s well-known that most Indian cities are overpopulated, and Kolkata is no expectation. This capital city hosts 14.85 million (2020 data) people. Kolkata teems with life and vibrant culture boasting many museums, art galleries, temples and gorgeous architecture. 

But all that beauty might not be worth your health. Kolkata is the second most polluted city in India after Delhi. And the leading cause of this pollution comes from transportation, specifically poorly-maintained vehicles. 

Apart from the extensive automobile fuel emission, using petrol and kerosene-mixed diesel by autorickshaw drivers has worsened air pollution immensely. 

24. Anyang, China 

PM2.5: 46.64 µg/m3


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Anyang is the northernmost city in Henan Province and is known for its agricultural and trading practices. Environmental experts are scorning this city for its increased rates of air pollution. It was even rated as China’s smoggiest city in 2020. 

The vast amounts of smog, smoke and other toxic fine particles result from the numerous industrial plants throughout the city. Anyang’s population of over 5 million people, an abundance of factories and power plants also contribute considerably.

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25. Xinxiang, China 

PM2.5: 46.05 µg/m3


Photo by Jimmy Liao from Pexels 

Xinxiang is another city in China’s Henan province with unhealthy pollution levels. The city is home to over six million residents facing environmental health challenges because of harmful practices. 

Most of Xinxiang’s pollution levels stem from the numerous coal-fired power plants and factories, transport, coal mining and underground coal fires. It was only in 2007 that an underground coal fire that’s been burning for more than 50 years was put out in one of the minefields. 

26. Kampala, Uganda 

PM2.5: 44.99 µg/m3


Photo by Xavier Messina from Pexels

As of this year, Kampala is Uganda’s largest city and the capital of 3,652,000 people that call it home. The city is a commercial district that borders Lake Victoria, which many activists compare to a septic tank due to insane levels of pollution caused by industrialisation and bad sewerage practices. 

Kampala’s poor air quality is six times worse than global standards, making it one of the most polluted cities. Its air consists of many pollutants, mainly chemical fumes, dust and smoke. Most of the pollution is a result of wood fuel usage, fumes from vehicles and industrial units and dust from unpaved roads. 

27. Xuchang, China 

PM2.5: 44.88 µg/m3


Photo by Pew Nguyen from Pexels 

Xuchang is yet another environmental concern from China’s Henan Province. And this is mainly due to the city’s coal-powered industries. Electricity generation is the leading cause of air pollution in Xuchang and its neighbouring cities. 

But urban activities have also contributed thanks to a large population. The city faces a lot of backlash for its water, noise and light pollution as well, with many pointing out that it looks dirty and untidy.

28. Bamako, Mali 

PM2.5: 44.88 µg/m3


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Bamako is a growing metropolis with an estimated 2.81 million residents in 2020. As Mali’s capital and the largest city, urban activities are not slowing down. And from these activities, cooking with dirty fuels is the primary source of air pollution. 

This city is also located on the Niger River, which is heavily polluted due to industrialization. Oil spillage, power plants and factories all produce toxic waste that has entered the Niger River for decades. 

Finally, the city is prone to dust storms and experiences plenty of vehicle emissions, adding to the poor atmospheric conditions.

29. Noida, India 

PM2.5: 42 µg/m3


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Noida is a planned Indian city in the highly polluted Uttar Pradesh region. The city’s PM2.5 concentration is currently sitting 4.1 times above the recommended global standard. Combine this poor air quality with its dense population of 637,272 people, and you have a polluted city. 

Fossil fuel-powered infrastructural development, increased vehicle traffic, construction and diesel generators are ranked as the top contributors to the polluted air. Noida is also rife with slums encapsulating unsustainable living conditions due to a lack of infrastructure. 

Wrapping Up Most Polluted Cities in the World

There you go. The most polluted cities worldwide. Still, keen on a trip to these places? Most would agree that short-term visits won’t do much harm. However, long-term stays in such polluted cities are unhealthy. 

Luckily there are steps that you can take to alleviate the amount of pollution you expose yourself to. Pollution masks, air purifiers, car cabin filters and recycling are all excellent examples of what you can do. 

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Craig Minkley

Monday 20th of February 2023

As a Resident of East London, I can agree that this city has ongoing problems with severe water pollution and requires proper garbage disposal services. However, it certainly does not have intense noise and light pollution, high levels of carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide.

I am not sure where you sourced your information, but it is not accurate.

Amanda OBrien

Monday 20th of February 2023

Hi Craig. As we share at the beginning of the article all the data is sourced 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. I also live in London.

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