Begusarai, India’s Bihar State, Tops 2023’s Most Polluted Cities Worldwide

Begusarai, a city in India's Bihar state, topped the list as the world's most polluted city in 2023, with an average annual PM2.5 concentration exceeding WHO guidelines by 23 times.

A recent report by IQAir has shed light on the alarming state of air quality across the globe, with India emerging as a focal point in the crisis. According to the findings, almost all of the 100 cities with the worst air pollution in the world last year were situated in Asia, with India bearing the brunt of this environmental challenge. The report underscores how the climate crisis, coupled with rampant use of fossil fuels, has exacerbated air pollution levels, posing significant risks to billions of individuals worldwide.

The study, which focused on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) levels, revealed a staggering reality: 83 out of the 100 most polluted cities were located in India, surpassing the World Health Organization’s air quality guidelines by over 10 times. This concerning trend indicates a widespread threat to public health, as inhaling PM2.5 pollutants can lead to severe respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular diseases, and even cognitive impairments, particularly in children.

Begusarai, a city in India’s Bihar state, topped the list as the world’s most polluted city in 2023, with an average annual PM2.5 concentration exceeding WHO guidelines by 23 times. Other Indian cities such as Guwahati, Delhi, and Mullanpur followed closely in the rankings, reflecting the severity of the situation across the nation. With 96% of India’s population residing in areas with air quality levels seven times higher than WHO standards, the report paints a grim picture of the country’s air pollution crisis.

The report not only highlights India’s plight but also underscores broader concerns across Central and South Asia, where all four of the most polluted countries—Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Tajikistan—are located. In South Asia alone, 29 out of the 30 most polluted cities are found in India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh, emphasizing the regional scale of the problem.

While some regions, like North America, grappled with wildfires contributing to air pollution spikes, Asia faced a resurgence in pollution levels. China, for instance, experienced a reversal in its downward trend of pollution levels, with cities like Beijing witnessing a notable increase in PM2.5 concentrations. Similarly, Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand saw alarming rises in pollution levels, with cities exceeding WHO guidelines by significant margins.

The report also draws attention to the stark disparity in air quality monitoring, particularly in regions like Africa, South America, and the Middle East. Despite some improvements, large parts of Africa remain underrepresented in air quality data, indicating a critical need for enhanced monitoring efforts.

Amidst these challenges, there are signs of hope as communities, NGOs, companies, and scientists rally for increased awareness and action to address air pollution. However, urgent and concerted efforts are required at local, national, and international levels to combat this pressing environmental crisis and safeguard public health for generations to come.

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