92pct of us are breathing unsafe air. That’s how bad the problem is, these maps show


BE2C2 Report — An estimated 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds safety limits, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which has released new research showing where the worst – and least – affected places are.

Swathes of the world are colored yellow, orange, red and purple, meaning air quality breaches WHO limits.

Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, China and parts of Eastern Europe are the biggest regional danger spots. They cover the region slightly above the Tropic of Cancer in the north and all the way to the Tropic of Capricorn in the south.

Click here for full size image

South Asia’s air pollution map below (enlarged) shows large swathe of the region north and south of the equator colored in purple meaning worst pollution. Rest are colored in red and orange, meaning pollution is high above permissible level.

The WHO says almost all air pollution-related deaths (94%) occur in low- and middle-income countries. That means parts of Asia, the whole of South Asia, and some areas in the Middle East, including a substantial part of the African continent are covered by the economic narrative.

Even within countries, levels of air pollution can vary, these maps show.

The maps, based on data from satellites, air transport models and ground station monitors, show levels of particulate matter, such as sulphate, nitrates and black carbon.


In India, for example, the air quality in its north is represented by a a vast swathe in purple color  and extends from the east to the west. It’s particularly bad. Rest is red and orange – i.e. still high above the permissible air quality limits.

In Pakistan, the “purple” colored swathe extends from the north in Punjab (Pakistan’s largest province) to Karachi in the southern province of Sindh – Pakistan’s financial capital, and the most populous city density-wise.

The map also shows Bangladesh almost covered in purple color, meaning air quality in the country is also bad.

Afghanistan fairs better – there are no purple patches; however, it’s all red and orange, meaning air quality is beyond permissible limits — polluted, but slightly better than its eastern neighbors Pakistan and India which have quite long and wide purple colored swathes surrounded by red and orange extensive zones.


The WHO’s latest research shows around 3 million deaths globally are linked to air pollution from vehicles, power generation and industry. Indoor, the fatality from air pollution is 3.5 million. Together, outdoor and indoor air pollution were associated with the deaths of an estimated 6.5 million people worldwide in 2012. That’s 11.6% of all global deaths – more than the number of people killed by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and road injuries combined, according to WEF Agenda report.

“Air pollution continues to take a toll on the health of the most vulnerable populations – women, children and the older adults,” says Dr Flavia Bustreo, the WHO’s Assistant Director-General.

Coincidentally, 12 of the 15 fastest growing megacities in the world fall in the highly polluted region (purple, red and orange color)- the edge of Asia to the African west coast.


In the developed countries, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Scandinavian nations meet safety guidelines. And the map  do show much of Europe breathing quality air. So is large part of Russia and the whole of Kashmir couched between India and Pakistan in their north.

“Fast action to tackle air pollution can’t come soon enough,” says Dr Maria Neira, Director of the WHO’s Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health.

She adds, “Solutions exist with sustainable transport in cities, solid waste management, access to clean household fuels and cooking-stoves, as well as renewable energies and industrial emissions reductions.”

Access the air pollution interactive map here >


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BE2C2 is a business unit of Irshad Salim Associates  which publishes reports, news, infographics, analytics and analyses based on available data and related information from sources readily available on the web and in the public domain.

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