Most Polluted Asian Cities based on AQI Index
Rajesh Basnet1,2 
1Academic writer, Earth and Human | Climate Action. Sustainable lifestyle. 
2Ph.D. scholar, Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, UCAS, China 

Air Quality Index (AQI) monitors pollution levels in 109 countries worldwide. The WHO recommends that 91-99 % of the world's population reside in areas where air quality meets or surpasses WHO criteria. Pollution levels are alarmingly high in two-thirds of cities with good air data. The study's main goal was to evaluate current data to determine the extent of pollution in Asian cities and the influence of COVID-19 using AQI index dataset. According to this study, Kanpur is the most polluted city in India and the world, and suffers from 600 cases of respiratory diseases every month. Bangladesh is the most polluted country in Asia in terms of air pollution. If current patterns continue, carbon emissions will increase by 130 % by 2050 in these cities. 

Keywords: Air quality, COVID, IEA, Pollution level, South Asia, WHO

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

The introduction or presence of pollutants that can harm the natural environment is called pollution. Air pollution and water pollution are the two most common types of pollution. However, there are many more. The WHO recommends that 91-99 % of the world’s population reside in areas where air quality surpasses WHO criteria. The World Health Organization’s air pollution goal is 0-10 g/m3. In 109 countries throughout the world, IQ Air monitors pollution levels. The Health Effects Institute has issued the State of Global Air report, which ranks the levels of air pollution in 196 countries. In terms of air pollution, air and water pollution, groundwater contamination, noise pollution, and solid wastes are the country’s top environmental contaminants (Khan & Hassan, 2020; Sadeghi Bonjar, 2017).

1.1. Scenario of the world

From 2008 to 2017, the World Health Organization compiled a list of the top 500 cities based on PM 2.5 annual average concentration measurements. In the 2018 version of the WHO database, ambient (outdoor) air pollution monitoring findings from roughly 2700 towns and cities in 91 countries are included. In South Asia’s most polluted region of the world, the air quality monitoring situation has improved. However, it is still lacking far behind only China, Europe, and North America, with adequate data available in only 84 cities in a territory of nearly two billion people. Two-thirds of cities with adequate air data are suffering from dangerous pollution levels. Russia appears in this ranking for its high dependence on oil, coal, gas, and fossil fuels. Due to its high urban development and industry, that seems to care little for nature (Lazăr, Minea, & Purcel, 2019). Air Visual’s global real-time dataset uses a worldwide network of consumer-grade monitors. In the world’s most polluted capitals, Delhi and Dhaka, the risk of stroke are elevated by about 150%. No less than nine cities in South Asia have higher PM 2.5 levels than the famous polluted capital of India (Rahman, Rana, & Khanam, 2022; Rodríguez-Urrego & Rodríguez-Urrego, 2020; Sharma, Jain, & Lamba, 2020). 

Even in the least polluted city, the entire region suffers from bad air, three times higher than WHO guidelines. The dominant sources of PM 2.5 Global pollution are fossil fuels – coal, oil, gas – and forest fires, and small biomass combustion. Cleaning up our energy supply would lead to the most significant improvements in air quality, with protecting forests coming second (Afroz, Hassan, & Ibrahim, 2003; Anderson, 2009; Chen & Kan, 2008). 

1.2. Scenario of Asia

In the South Asian area, air pollution is a problem for sustainability and environmental health. The closure has put an end to large-scale fossil fuel and biomass burning. South Asia’s air quality index (AQI) has dropped by 50% (Shi, Bilal, Ho, & Omar, 2020). Mongolia is the fourth most polluted country, with an average PM 2.5 concentration of 46.60. In Mongolia’s capital, Ulan Bator, respiratory illnesses have climbed by 270 % in the previous ten years (Mishra & Kulshrestha, 2021; Mukherjee et al., 2006). China is the world’s most significant industrial and commercial power. Pollution levels are not limited to big cities; many rural areas notice the consequences (Rodríguez-Urrego & Rodríguez-Urrego, 2020). In addition, Japan is the fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases (Damassa, Fransen, & Kuramochi).

2. Most polluted countries in Asia

2.1. Bangladesh

Bangladesh is the most polluted country on the earth in terms of air pollution. The main environmental toxins in the country include air and water pollution, groundwater contamination, noise pollution, and solid waste. Its primary source is the brick-making industry, generating 23 billion bricks every year (Hossain & Baki, 2015).

2.2. Pakistan

Punjab has an average PM 2.5 concentration of 59.00. For most of 2019, AQI ratings in Punjab were constantly “near unhealthy” or “very unhealthy.” The rising number of automobiles on the highways, large-scale tree losses, and smoke from brick kilns and steel factories contribute to rising pollution in Pakistan (Ahmad et al., 2020).

2.3. India

India, More than 90% of India’s population lives in locations where air quality falls short of WHO criteria, with coal-fired power stations, industry, and automobiles among the top polluters. India is the world’s third most polluted country, with an average PM2.5 concentration of 51.90. Twenty-one of the world’s thirty most polluted cities are located in India. Six hundred respiratory disease cases are reported in Kanpur, India’s most polluted city (Rodríguez-Urrego & Rodríguez-Urrego, 2020; Sharma et al., 2020).

2.4. Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital and home to half of the country’s three million people, is one of the world’s most polluted cities, and the daily average of PM2.5 pollution levels reaches 687 micrograms per cubic meter on the coldest days of the year, which is 27 times the WHO recommended safe threshold. Mongolia is the world’s fourth most polluted country. The largest polluting source is coal and other biomass burning in stoves. Pneumonia and other respiratory issues affect babies as soon as two days old due to air pollution (Cousins, 2019).

2.5. Afghanistan

Industrial pollution, vehicle emissions, and low-quality gasoline are all factors that contribute to Afghanistan’s poor air quality. During the winter months (December to February), pollution can arise due to the increased use of polluting fuels (wood, coal, kerosene) and inefficient heating technology. Afghanistan is the fifth most polluted country globally, with an average PM2.5 level of 46.50. More than 80% of Afghanistan’s drinking water is polluted due to insufficient rainfall, inconsistent groundwater use, and inadequate infrastructure (Rodríguez-Urrego & Rodríguez-Urrego, 2020).

2.6. Indonesia

With an AQI of 210, Indonesia’s capital handily outperformed other infamously filthy cities like Beijing, Dubai, and New Delhi. Particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone are the pollutants that make up an AQI (Firdaus, Trihadiningrum, & Lestari, 2020).

2.7. Oman

The air quality of Oman is rated dangerous by the World Health Organization; according to the most current statistics, the country’s annual mean concentration of PM2. 5 is 41 g/m3, surpassing the advised level of 10 g/m3; the present PM2.5 concentration in Oman’s air is 8.9 times higher than the WHO annual air quality guideline value (Al-Shidi, Ambusaidi, & Sulaiman, 2021; Amoatey et al., 2021).

2.8. Qatar

The present concentration of PM2.5 in Qatari air is 8.9 times higher than the WHO yearly air quality guideline value. Qatar has the highest fine particle air pollution concentration in the Middle East and North Africa, with over 76 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter (Bou Kheir, Greve, Greve, Peng, & Shomar, 2019; Onat, Kucukvar, Aboushaqrah, & Jabbar, 2019).

2.9. Kyrgyzstan

The city of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek, has one of the highest levels of air pollution globally, and the situation is only getting worse. According to the Bishkek Air Quality Monitor at the US Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, there were 32 days of dangerous air pollution in Bishkek from November 2020 to February 2021. Kyrgyzstan’s PM2.5 concentration is now 8.7 times higher than the WHO annual air quality guideline value (Dogan et al., 2021; Li, Ma, Li, & Abuduwaili, 2022; Toichuev et al., 2018).

2.10. Bahrain

Bahrain’s air quality is classified as hazardous by the World Health Organization. According to the latest available statistics, the country’s annual mean PM2.5 concentration is 71 g/m3, more than the recommended level of 10 g/m3. Bahrain’s PM2.5 concentration is now 7.9 times higher than the WHO annual air quality guideline value (EL-GHONAIMY, 2019; Jassim, Coskuner, & Munir, 2018).

2.11. COVID 19 and Pollution

During COVID-19, the pollution levels in 50 of the world’s most polluted cities fell by 12%. In the data obtained, Bogotá, Colombia, had the most significant reduction in PM2.5, at 57 %. The WHO has been shut down due to the SARS-CoV2 pandemic in Wuhan. Because air pollution is a major environmental health issue (O’Neill et al., 2003), we must monitor air quality in cities. Dhaka is the world’s most polluted capital, followed by Kampala and Delhi. With a 57 % drop in PM 2.5 compared to a usual week, Bogota has the highest reduction in the statistics. The 50 most polluted capitals reported a 12 % reduction in pollution during COVID-19’s suspension. Because air pollution is a primary environmental health concern, it is critical to monitor air quality in cities, particularly capital cities. During the confinement season, PM 2.5 pollution levels in the world’s fifty major cities have reduced concentration during demobilization and manufacturing shutdowns (Rodríguez-Urrego & Rodríguez-Urrego, 2020).

3. Discussion and Conclusion

According to this study, Bangladesh is the world’s most polluted country in terms of air pollution. Over 90% of India’s population lives in locations where air quality falls short of WHO guidelines. The largest polluting source is coal and other biomass burning in stoves. Oman has the greatest refined particle air pollution concentration in the Middle East and North Africa. The yearly WHO air quality guideline value for PM2.5 is 8.9 times higher in Oman’s air. Kyrgyzstan has one of the worst levels of air pollution in the world. 

South Asia consumes a large amount of coal, has many cars, and burns much biomass. Industrial and vehicular emissions were reduced, resulting in lower AQI and NO2 levels (Liu et al., 2021). Other sources of emissions, such as air dust and biomass burning for cooking, showed no significant increases. PM 2.5 air pollution is the world’s most serious environmental health threat, causing millions of early deaths (Cohen et al., 2005). The chance of dying from a stroke is almost twice as high for residents of Jakarta, Hanoi, and Beijing as it is for those who live in clean air. Nearly all of Africa and most Middle East lack real-time air quality monitoring. Monitoring PM 2.5 coverage is far worse than other pollutants related to fossil fuel burning, such as nitrogen dioxide and ozone. Overall, the more than 3000 cities in Air Visual only cover 15% of the global population (Zamora, Rice, & Koehler, 2020). 

As per this analysis, Kanpur, India’s most polluted city, experiences 600 instances of respiratory ailments every month. If current patterns continue, carbon emissions will increase by 130 percent by 2050. Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) and forest fires are the primary sources of PM 2.5 pollution worldwide. Finally, there is a requirement. The tremendous significant gains in air quality would come from cleaning up our energy source and planting trees.

4. Recommendation

It is necessary to avoid using biomass for cooking and heating in the winter, especially in south Asian nations. New National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for PM 10 and PM 5 must be defined. South Asia will benefit from a rapid public transportation system to minimize air pollution. Because complete lockdown is not a long-term answer, policymakers should incorporate measures like limiting industrial emissions by alternating working days and converting to greener energy sources. South Asia will benefit from a rapid public transportation system to minimize air pollution.

List of Abbreviations

AQIAir Quality Index
COVID-19Coronavirus Disease 2019
IEAInternational Energy Agency
NAAQSNew National Ambient Air Quality Standards
WHOWorld Health Organization 


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(Last Updated on May 23, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Rajesh Basnet received his B.Pharm, Institute of Medicine, Tribhuvan University, and MSc. In Pharmacology, Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Shanghai (2019). He is currently a Ph.D. scholar in Biochemistry and Molecular biology, Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, UCAS, Guangzhou, China (2020). He was awarded a UCAS scholarship (2016) and ANSO fellowship (2020) for his study. He has published more than 15 scientific articles in national and international journals.