The most polluted cities in the world: not just a Chinese problem

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Which are the most polluted cities in the world? China leads with a good margin here, but it’s  in good company, one might as well say.

Last winter, you’ve probably read reports from Harbin, a Chinese metropolis in the North-East, where at a certain point one could not see more than 10 meters ahead in broad daylight. What was the cause? An intense cloud of pollution which plunged the city in a thick fog and prompted the authorities to cease all activity. All transports, schools and shops were closed, and the city became deserted. With a good reason, because WHO declared that the city’s air was (and is) carcinogenic.

This phenomenon is not isolated in a country whose rapid growth has resulted in an increase in pollution in urban areas. This is not only a public health problem but also an ecological threat, a new challenge of the Middle Kingdom.

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This environmental issue is not unique to China. The most polluted cities in the world are found in Asia: Linfen in China, Sumgait in Azerbaijan and Vapi in India being the most critical, other areas have been singled out by the Blacksmith Institute. The American NGO published a ranked list of the most polluted  cities in the world.

Megacities and metropolises are not the first in the list; other cities near hazardous industrial sites top the list, due to the fact that air, water and land of these cities are infested with chemicals: La Oroya in Peru, Dzerzhinsk in Russia, but also Chernobyl in Ukraine or Fukushima in Japan live amidst alarming situations. Their populations are facing recurrent diseases: cancer, premature birth or respiratory disorders.

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Other cities such as Mexico City and Cairo have recently joined the list. Geographical location and the rapid population growth of these two capitals are at the origin of their high air pollution. But pollution turns out to be a critical issue even in some of the most beautiful cities in the world, including Paris.

What’s really significant here is that by 2050, two-thirds of the world will be urbanized. Rethinking the city of tomorrow in sustainable developmental terms is therefore an impellent necessity. It is by now impossible for the governments to plan the economic development of their cities without considering the environment; it is a fundamental challenge of the 21st century.



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