Delhi remains the most polluted region in the world, 21 or 30 most polluted cities are in India

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Top world cities with high pollution level: Arranged by average annual PM2.5 concentration (µg/m³)

Citing the World Air Quality Report 2019, which says that 21 out of the top 30 most polluted cities are located in India, Greenpeace India has said that despite signalling improvements, Delhi-NCR region remains to be the most polluted region in the world:

With 90% of the global population breathing unsafe air, air pollution poses not only to be an environmental but a severe human rights issue. The latest data from continuous ambient air quality monitoring stations across the world, compiled by IQAir, World Air Quality Report 2019  and the most polluted cities ranking, reveals the changing state of particulate pollution (PM2.5) around the world during 2019.

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In the context of South Asia, Indian cities again dominate the world’s most polluted cities for PM2.5 in 2019. 21out of the top 30 most polluted cities are located in India. Ghaziabad is the  most polluted city in the world, followed by Noida, Gurugram and Greater Noida being in the top ten with Delhi in 5th place.

Globally India, with 58.1 μg/m3  PM 2.5 concentration ranks fifth in the ranking of polluted countries across the world. Bangladesh tops the list followed by Pakistan, Mongolia and Afghanistan.

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However, the report also mentions that Indian cities have shown improvement from last year.  Whilst cities in India, on average, exceed the WHO target for annual PM2.5 exposure by 500%, national air pollution decreased by 20% from 2018 to 2019, with 98% of cities are experiencing improvements.

Frank Hammes, IQAir CEO said, “While the Coronavirus is dominating international headlines, a silent killer is contributing to nearly 7 million more deaths a year: air pollution. The gap in air quality data in large parts of the world poses a serious problem, as what is not measured cannot be managed. Areas that lack air quality information are often estimated to have some of the world’s most severe air pollution, putting huge populations at risk. Growing public monitoring data globally, presents an opportunity to empower citizens and governments to implement informed policies to improve air quality.”

air quality52019 air quality data shows clear indications that climate change can directly increase the risk of exposure to air pollution, through increased frequency and intensity of forest fires and sandstorms. Similarly, in many regions the cause of ambient PM2.5 pollution and climate changing greenhouse gases are linked, namely the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal.

Commenting on the World Air Quality Report 2019, Avinash Chanchal, Senior Campaigner at Greenpeace India said, “In Delhi, be it bypass roads, shutting down of Badarpur Power Plants, shifting the industries to PNG and BS VI mandate have had result in reduction of pollution levels on an annual average basis supported by favorable meteorological conditions in 2019 and an ongoing slowdown in marketplace, but latest World Air Quality Report is an indication that the steps taken are not sufficient.”

“It is noticeable that reports such as Airpocalypse-IV or World Air Quality Report 2019 are reflective of the trend that household and agricultural biomass burning is falling but fossil-fuelled energy consumption remains very high. Power Plants have not adhered and missed the deadline to install  Flue Gas Desulphurization units to control pollution and the public transportation is nowhere near to be adequate to turn the tide on reducing dependence on privatized vehicle use.  These facts are out in public domain, media reports about it regularly and the public is aware as well. Now the responsibility lies with the government to fix the accountability.,” added Chanchal.

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World Air Quality Report 2019 on India


2019 marked the launch of India’s first National Clean Air Programme (NCAP), marking a shift in India’s commitment to tackling air pollution. The NCAP aims to reduce PM2.5 and PM10 air pollution in 102 cities by 20-30% by 2024 compared to 2017 levels, by working directly with local governments to create more customized regulations and targets (Government of India, 2019). In July 2019, India additionally joined the UN’s Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) as the 65th member to collaborate with global leaders on air pollution solutions. While the long-term impacts of these activities are yet to be seen, India saw widespread improvements in PM2.5 levels in 2019, compared to the year prior as a result of economic slowdown, favorable meteorological conditions, as well as more dedicated efforts towards cleaning the air.


Despite improvements, India still faces serious air pollution challenges. India again heads this report’s ranking of annual PM2.5 levels by city with half of the 50 most polluted cities being in India. No Indian cities included in this report met the WHO target for annual pollution exposure (10ug/m3) during 2019. Additionally, the country still has a relatively limited air quality monitoring network given its population size, with many communities and even highly populated cities without access to real-time information.


Every city in India with PM2.5 data in 2018 and 2019, except for Nagpur1 , saw a decrease in PM2.5 levels in 2019. As a weighted average based on the available data, national air pollution decreased by a remarkable 20% from 2018 to 2019. Unfortunately these improvements are not representative of the very recent but promising National Clean Air Programme and promising cleaner fuel Bharat VI introduction, but are rather more indicative of a slowing of the marketplace.

Click HERE to read World Air Quality Report 2019

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