• A company released its report on global air pollution in 2021
  • Among the places included, Bangladesh, Chad and Pakistan had highest PM2.5 levels
  • Out of more than 6,000 cities, only 222 met the WHO's guidelines

An organization that tracks the global air quality has released its report on the state of air pollution in countries, territories and cities across the globe. The top places exceeded the WHO guidelines by more than 10 times.

Air pollution has become the "largest environmental health threat" in the world, according to the Swiss air quality tech company, IQAir. Air pollution accounts for millions of deaths all over the world each year, and costs billions of dollars in economic cost.

In 2021, for instance, it is estimated that 40,000 deaths in children below five years old can be "directly linked to PM2.5 air pollution." According to CNN, this is the tiniest but also among the "most dangerous" pollutant.

With recent evidence, which concluded that there is "no level" at which exposure to PM2.5 can be considered safe, the World Health Organization (WHO) reduced its guidelines for recommended annual PM2.5 concentration by half, from 10 µg/m³ to 5 µg/m³.

In IQAir's 2021 report, Bangladesh, Chad, Pakistan, Tajikistan and India are respectively the top five countries with the highest PM2.5 concentration among the included territories, countries and regions. All of them exceeded 10 times the WHO guidelines.

Completing the list of top 10 countries are Oman, Kyrgyztan, Bahrain, Iraq and Nepal, which also exceeded the WHO guidelines by at least 10 times. The U.S. comes in the 90th place in the list, still exceeding the guidelines by two to three times.

On the flip side, New Caledonia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Cape Verde and Saba are the top five places found to have the best air quality among the regions, territories and countries included. Finland, Grenada, Bahamas, Australia and Estonia complete the top 10. However, even among these locations, only New Caledonia, U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico had air quality that meets the WHO guidelines.

The organization also looked at the air pollution in 6,475 cities, increasing its 2020 report, which included 4,745 locations. Out of over 6,000 locations, only 222 met the WHO standards, noted CNN.

The capital cities with the highest PM2.5 concentrations in 2021 were New Delhi in India, Dhaka in Bangladesh, N'Djamena in Chad, Dushanbe in Tajikistan and Muscat, Oman. These capital cities also exceeded the WHO guidelines by over 10 times. Washington, U.S. is 86th on the list, with levels exceeding the guideline by one to two times.

The data also showed some interesting trends. For instance, South Korea ranks 54th in the list of 117 countries, while its capital Seoul is 45th on the list of capital cities; in both cases, the data shows the the PM2.5 levels exceed the guidelines by three to five times. However. South Korea is also showing a marked trend of improving and reducing its PM2.5 concentrations due to efforts such as green incentives.

On the other hand, in Southeast Asia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines were the three least polluted countries in the region, but they were also the ones that showed the "most significant increases in PM2.5 concentrations in 2021" compared to 2020.

"This report underscores the need for governments around the world to help reduce global air pollution," IQAir North America CEO, Glory Dolphin Hammes, told CNN. "(Fine particulate matter) kills far too many people every year and governments need to set more stringent air quality national standards and explore better foreign policies that promote better air quality."

Residents in Pakistan's Lahore complain of pollution which hurts their eyes and throats, gets in their clothes, hair and skin
Residents in Pakistan's Lahore complain of pollution which hurts their eyes and throats, gets in their clothes, hair and skin AFP / Arif ALI