Increased urbanization is leading to longer winters and darker days, and to cities being covered in blankets of dense smog. In an attempt to push this urbanization and create “better” habitats, humans are contributing to the depletion of Earth’s natural resources through unsustainable activities. The byproduct of these activities are greenhouse emissions, which are affecting the Ozone layer of the Earth and accelerating the rate of climate change as we speak.

Activities that occur in cities and towns have been shown to produce more emissions due to burning of fossil fuels. These gases are affecting not only human beings but also other species. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of 10 individuals breathe polluted air, and each year nearly 7 million people pass away as a result of heart and lung problems attributed to air pollution alone.

Climate change is now a major concern for international communities, and decision makers from around the world are collaborating to bring awareness to people and regulating the way our cities and towns function. The mission of these communities is to create sustainable locales, mainly through forest covers, and renewable energy sources such as solar, tidal, and wind.

However, the process is long drawn and filled with policy disputes, and several metros are now in the endangered list as they face threats such as submergence and choking. Here, we list out 20 cities that have fared worst in pollution rankings. The list doesn’t bias against any country and is purely based on global census reports.

20 Manila, Philippines - shroud with smog from vehicles and factories

People of Manila in the Philippines face the major challenge of rising pollution levels. The megacity, a popular tourist destination, is shrouded by smog from vehicles and factories during winters and has a poor sewage system, which has lead to the rise in air and water pollution. Toxic fumes and effluents from automobiles and industries contaminate the air and water bodies. The rapid growth of population is making it difficult even for the administration of Manila to regulate the situation.

The city is one of the major contributors to climate change, which is threatening the beautiful archipelago of Philippines, its dense ecosystem, and coastline. The metropolitan city needs to incorporate greener habits to reverse the destruction and submerging coastlines.

19 Allahabad, India - burning garbage into the air

Emissions from burning garbage, fossil fuels, vehicles and traditional power plants, and deforestation have left the people of Allahabad, India, gasping for their breath in the hazardous environment. Allahabad lies at the confluence of the rivers Ganga and Yamuna, and its effluents not only harm species on land but also pose a threat to its delicate river ecology.

The increase in the usage of automobiles also records as the major reason for the pollution levels in Allahabad. The second biggest reason, garbage dumping is polluting the naturally fertile river basins the city is gifted with. The toxic fumes of burning garbage are further flown to the neighboring cities. The deterioration of this city is sluggish yet minacious.

18 Yangon, Myanmar - traditional fuels aren't helping 

Yangon in Myanmar has a severe and unfortunate air pollution problem. People in Myanmar still use the traditional solid fuels, such as wood, charcoal, crop waste, and dung for cooking, which causes releases mainly carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. These activities are resulting in health issues to the heart and lungs among the natives of Yangon.

Yangon is obscured with harmful air particles such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, ammonia, carbon monoxide, methane, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrochloride that are accelerating pollution and deteriorating the air quality. Yangon can mitigate air pollution by embracing practices such as sustainable transport system and lowering industrial emissions and adopting modern cooking styles.

17 Gurugram, India - Industrialisation up, air quality down.

Known as one of the financial and technology hubs in India – Gurugram (also called Gurgaon) always records the highest pollution rates in the world. The stark growth in industrialization has resulted in worsening the quality of air in the city. The gases released from the industries cause grave respiratory problems among the residents of the place.

The sheer rise in automobile acquisition and construction debris have lead to the environmental contamination of Gurugram. The Sultanpur National Park, which is home to hundreds of native and exotic species of birds and animals, is also in threat by the city’s harmful habits.

16 Beijing, China - 5 million motor vehicles

Beijing, the capital city of China, is frequently tormented by smog and sandstorms. The people of the city are often found covering their faces with masks in their daily lives to escape the pollution that’s devouring the city. The primary source of the toxic effluents is exhaust emission from around 5 million motor vehicles, coal burning in bordering regions, and construction activities.

The city is troubled with heat waves from neighboring provinces. The city of historical sites has experienced increase in levels of ground-level Ozone, which affects the lungs, respiratory system, and eyes. The emission of volatile organic compounds, and other environment-degrading activities ought be reversed before nature gives up on the city.

15 Varanasi, India - a river of plastic

India’s holiest city deals with air contaminated with dense pollutants and a river clogging on plastic garbage and worse. Each year in Varanasi, hundreds of pilgrims gather at the banks of the river Ganges to offer their prayers and say goodbye to their loved ones who have passed.

The city has high population density, and its inhabitants do their daily chores such as washing clothes and bathing at the bank of the river Ganges, which spoils the quality of the water. Enveloped in hazardous smog, the levels of airborne matter in the winds of Varanasi are so fine that it can penetrate deep into the lungs of those in the vicinity.

Varanasi’s river faces the risk of its natural water basin turning into an ecological deadzone, if things are not set right.

14 Delhi, India - the smoggiest city in the world

New Delhi, the capital city of India is also the smoggiest city in the world, and has been in the news for dense smog and fog cover that lasts for months. One can barely find the silhouette of their route on Delhi roads during smog season (not a particular season).

A report from a renowned daily reveals that breathing the air of Delhi for a day is equivalent to 50 cigarettes that day. The situation was even declared a serious health hazard.

Delhi’s historical monuments such as Qutub Minar and the tomb of Humayun are degrading in structure and color due to pollutants. If the destruction isn’t controlled soon, it will impair the city’s assets and make it uninhabitable.

13 Noida, India - rare species are at risk

Noida, a city in India’s National Capital Region, is a haven for migratory birds, native birds, jackals, and indigenous butterflies. The generous home for rare species, however, has quickly succumbed to air pollution.

The smoke and dust from industries and construction sites worsen the quality of air in Noida. Destroying vegetation, soil, ecology, and the livelihood of people, Noida’s pollutants are fueled by everyday human activities.

While not everyone directly contributes to the worsening quality of air, they still fell prey to others’ actions.

12 Hanoi, Vietnam - chemicals are contaminating

Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, is experiencing an alarming rise in pollution levels. The rapid growth of urban population leading to the rise in unhealthy emissions is the main cause of the menacing health problems in Vietnam.

The beautiful lakes of the city have been contaminated by chemicals. Hanoi has been sounding the warning bells as its air is exceeding the acceptable levels of dust concentration.

Transportation, industrialization, and energy production are partly responsible for the dire straits the city is in. Known as the antique capital of Vietnam, Hanoi has mesmerizing rivers and mountains that are being degraded by adverse activities.

11 Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia - visibility is masked by pollution

For most of the year, Ulaanbaatar is submerged in smog that masks the city. The place experiences fluctuating change in climate. The toxic fumes released in the form of smog form thin films on glasses and lamps, lowering visibility.

The residents of Ulaanbaatar find it difficult to mask their faces due to the combination of cold and smoke. Noted as the world’s coldest capital, Ulaanbaatar is highly vulnerable to natural and manmade disasters.

Peaking population, improper infrastructure, and coal usage are some of the reasons that caused and are increasing Ulaanbaatar’s air pollution. Mongolia, the ‘Land of Eternal Blue Sky,’ needs to fix the habits of its capital city before the warning bells are sounded.

10 Dhaka, Bangladesh - smog and... predicted to be underwater

Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh and one of the world’s largest cities, has shown up in the list of the world’s most polluted cities numerous times since the country’s independence. The cultural and economic hub of Bangladesh is choking with severe air pollution.

Each day, the quality of air in the city worsens, sounding warning bells to the nation’s environment agencies to act fast. Dhaka’s weather becomes more intolerable during dry season when the smog pierces the skin like thorns.

Many people in Dhaka suffer from respiratory problems such as asthma. The metropolis is also one of the cities that is predicted to be several feet under water by the next century.

9 Karachi, Pakistan - a carpet of dust

The excessive use of automobiles, and public transport system, industrial emissions, garbage burning and house fires are noted as the primary causes of pollution in Karachi. A major cause of the people’s growing cardiovascular and respiratory issues, the dust fog settles in the air like a carpet and blurs the sight even in daylight.

Inadequate waste management and inadequate environment policies are some of the reasons for Karachi’s predicament. Besides air pollution, marine and noise pollution have also made headway in the city. Causing destruction to the marine life, the toxic waste from industries is endangering the beautiful coral reefs off the coast of Karachi.

8 Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

The quality of air in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) in Vietnam has hit rock bottom. The fleeting traffic, exploding population, and rapid construction and industrial activities are deemed as the major causes of air pollution in the city. The floating dust and noise from automobiles lead 1.5 million people to suffer from chronic obstructive lung diseases every year.

Also, records reveal that the air pollution is a major cause of life ending prematurely in Vietnam. The city that shaped the history of the nation is now slowly but certainly deteriorating.

7 Kanpur, India - 60% of the city is affected

A gigantic industrial city built on the banks of river Ganga, Kanpur records high levels of toxic air. Industrial effluents, automobile usage, and domestic cooking are said to have a tremendous negative impact on the quality of air in this city. The hospitals in the city register a record number of cases of respiratory ailments in the past few years.

Studies show that 60 percent of the geographical area of Kanpur is wrapped in pollution. The city is standing on the strength of its industries at the expense of its river banks and ecology. If the industrialization isn’t diverted away from the city, it may become uninhabitable in a few decades.

6 Cairo, Egypt - the notorious black cloud

When we talk about pollution in Cairo, Egypt, we think of a black cloud, an yearly scourge that settles down over the city as the summer heat disappears. The smoke released from the two-million vehicles, thousands of factories, and burning crops make up this black cloud that envelopes the city.

The state of the topography and climate fuel the pollution in the city. The pollution in the city has affected its ancient monuments that date back to the time of the Pharaohs, including Cairo Citadel. The city is teeming with urbanization, which is ruining the geography and gifted natural aesthetics.

5 Kathmandu, Nepal - the natural beauty is fading

Nepal’s Kathmandu is recorded among one of the worst air places to breathe, thanks partly to the rise in adventure tourism. Over the years, the capital of Nepal has experienced a gradual increase in the air pollution rates, and is on the verge of declaring a public health emergency.

The quality of air in the region is deteriorating every day. Unending road repairs, massive constructions, uncontrolled emission of smoke from vehicles, tourism increase, and industrial emissions are cited as the major factors contributing to the pollution.

The enchanting city of Kathmandu’s burgeoning tourism industry may collapse under its own weight if the trend continues and it loses its natural beauty.

4 Faridabad, India - Measures need to be taken, now

Air quality in India’s Faridabad is alarmingly poor. The lack of greenery and the fine dust particles make it difficult for people to breathe. Landfills, uncontrolled transport system, and lack of sewers and sanitation cause the land and air pollution in Faridabad. With no adequate measures, the place is experiencing the steepest increase in air pollution levels every year.

Industrial activities is also a major cause of air pollution in the city. Due to the presence of dangerous pollutants in the air, Faridabad’s citizens and animal and plant life experience severe health hazards. If the city doesn’t take the necessary measures, it may have to pay a massive price in terms of well-being and economy.

3 Tetovo, Macedonia - unsustainable activities

If you want to go on an adventure of a lifetime, then you can visit Tetovo. Besides mainstream adventures, the one we are talking about here is breathing the air of Tetovo. The city in the Republic of Macedonia has ranked high in the list of the most polluted places of Earth.

Unsustainable activities, including using coal dust, flying ash, wood smoke, diesel soot and automobile smoke, are the major causes of pollution in Tetovo.

One of the most contaminated cities in Europe, Tetovo’s beautiful natural terrains are slowly succumbing to pollution. Several locals report  eyes and throats, and breathing problems.

2 Ghaziabad, India - over-reliance on diesel 

Ghaziabad is India’s most affected city in terms of air pollution. Dust from infrastructural construction sites and effluents from industries make the place difficult to live. Since the past five years, the pollution rates in Ghaziabad have been skyrocketing. Majority of the transportation in the city runs on diesel, which is cited as the foremost cause of the degrading air.

To clean up the air, regulatory actions such as banning diesel vehicles, using cleaner fuels in the industries, and controlling the usage of automobiles need to be taken. These actions will save nature from further destruction before it is too late.

1 Kabul, Afghanistan - a city built for 1 million holds 5

The air pollution in Kabul is getting intolerable year after year. The three-decades of ongoing civil issues in the region is said to be one of the prime reasons behind the air pollution in Kabul. They have seen the demolition of infrastructure in the region and the increased usage of weapons, which has increased the pollution levels dangerously.

Only around 40,000 vehicles (excluding public buses) are used on daily basis. However, most of the automobiles used in Kabul are over 10 years old, and thus also contributes to the blighted air. According to government claims, Kabul is built to accommodate only one-million people; but the current population of the city has exceeded five million, which in turn has increased greenhouse emissions.

References: weforum, numbeo, nytimes