For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities. That means that something like 4 billion human beings are living in urban industrial centers, with all of the traffic, congestion and pollution that comes with it.
In many parts of the world, these urban populations are growing faster than housing, sewers and infrastructure can keep up with. Plus, the manufacturing industries are poorly regulated, and sometimes freely dump their toxic by-products in local landfills and waterways, or spew heavy metals and carbon emissions into the air by the ton. This creates some pretty poor living conditions, to say the least.
Combining data from the Mercer Health and Sanitation Index, the World Health Organization, and the Blacksmith Institute, and taking into account such factors as poor sanitation, air quality, and industrial pollution, I have put together this list of some of the worst offenders: the 10 dirtiest cities in the world.
10. Mexico City, Mexico
The federal district of Mexico City is home to about 22 million people, making it one of the 10 largest urban centers in the world. Naturally, that leads to some waste-disposal challenges, especially in the city’s poorest slums. It also has some of worst air quality in the world, due to a choking haze of smog from exhaust fumes and industrial emissions that fills the Mexico City basin, trapped in by the surrounding mountains.
9. Ludhiana, India
Sometimes referred to as “the Manchester of India,” the city of Ludhiana is one of the largest industrial centers in the northern state of Punjab. The city boasts a population of more than 3.5 million, a thriving manufacturing business which produces such things as bicycles, textiles, auto parts and agricultural equipment, as well the worst air pollution in all of India.
8. Antananarivo, Madagascar
The capital and largest city on the island of Madagascar is home to more than 2 million inhabitants – and that number is growing fast. So fast, in fact, that the cities infrastructure and sanitation cannot keep pace. Add to that the city’s rapid industrial development with almost no ecological regulations, and what do you get? Many thousands of people living in squalor, with filthy – often contaminated – water and little or no waste management.
7. Sukinda, India
Located in the mining district of Odisha, Sukinda is home to more than 2.5 million people. The city’s main industry is mining for chromite, or chromium ore, and the mines operate with little regulation or concern for environmental impact. Mining wastes have contaminated the Brahmani River and other nearby waterways with dangerous levels of hexavalent chromium, which is known to cause cancer and other illnesses. More than 50 percent of the city’s drinking water is affected.
6. Dhaka, Bangladesh
The capital of Bangladesh is home to over 12 million people, making it one of the biggest cities in the world and one of the most important industrial hubs of South Asia. The city struggles to provide water and sanitation services to it’s tremendous population – only 50 percent of households are connected to a sewer or septic system. And since Dhaka produces nearly 10 million tons of solid waste per year, that means that somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 million tons of refuse are dumped into local ditches, streams and waterways. Gross.
5. Port au Prince, Haiti
The capital of Haiti is also it’s largest and most important port city, with a population of nearly 1 million people. The city was devastated by a major earthquake in 2010, which killed thousands and caused untold damage to buildings and infrastructure. Port au Prince faces the same challenges as many rapidly growing cities – the population is growing faster than the infrastructure. So many of the city’s inhabitants live without adequate housing, sanitation or health care.
4. Ahvaz, Iran
Located on the banks of the Karun River in the Iranian province of Khuzestan, Ahvaz has a population of nearly 3 million people. It is a major center of Iran’s oil industry, which has operated in the region for decades without adequate regulation. A 2011 survey by the World Health Organization claims that Ahvaz has the worst air pollution in the world.
3. Dzerzhinsk, Russia
Located along the Oka River, east of Moscow, the Russian city of Dzerzhinsk has a population of only about 300,000 people. But what it lacks in size, it makes for in pollution. For most of the 20th century, Dzerzhinsk was a major center of the Soviet arms and chemical industries; arsenic and mustard gas were manufactured there until the mid-60’s. When chemical weapon production was halted, much of these deadly toxins were dumped and buried at the site of the factories. Air and water pollution has contributed to shockingly low life-expectancy in the local population.
2. Linfen, China
With a population of more than 4 million people, the city of Linfen is located on the banks of the Fen River, in the Shanxi province of China. Since the late 70’s, Linfen has been a center of the Chinese coal industry, and the air is thick with soot and dust from the coal mines that surround the city. It has been designated as one of the most polluted cities in the world, with residents suffering from bronchitis, pneumonia, lung cancer and even lead poisoning resulting from high levels of industrial contamination.
1. Baku, Azerbaijan
Located on the shores of the Caspian sea, Baku has a population of more than 2 million people. Built upon some of the richest oil fields on Earth, the city is home to a huge belt of drills and refineries often referred to as the “Black City.” For over a century the Black City has belched forth clouds of smoke that hang over the city of Baku, and polluted the surrounding landscape and water supply with petrochemical by-products. The city received the worst rating in the world by the Mercer Health and Sanitation Index.