Habitable Air

Unhabitable Air: Only 7 Nations Meet WHO Standard & Breathe Easy

Unequal Lungs, Unequal Voices: 2023 Air Report Exposes Pollution’s Role in Global Divides


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The 2023 IQAir World Air Quality Report paints a disturbing picture, not just of air pollution, but of its role in amplifying existing global challenges. It exposes a world where rapid urban inequality and political polarisation create a breeding ground for environmental injustice.


While the report’s findings on countries like Bangladesh and India are concerning, they also highlight the uneven impact of pollution within nations. In an era of rapid urbanisation and widening political divides, clean air emerges as a critical battleground.  The emergence of Begusarai, a lesser-known Indian city, as the most polluted metropolis underscores how uncontrolled urban growth can exacerbate air quality issues. This unveils a worrying trend – the burden of pollution often falls on societies already grappling with social inequalities and limited resources. Similarly, Canada’s struggles with pollution expose cracks in the facade of environmental prosperity often associated with developed nations.


Furthermore, the reliance on citizen-operated monitoring stations highlights a crucial point – the lack of robust data infrastructure in some regions creates information gaps. This disparity mirrors the broader issue of unequal access to environmental information and resources within and between nations. Beyond being just a data gap solution, citizen-led monitoring is a testament to the grassroots resistance against the lack of transparency and accountability around air quality. This trend echoes the broader fight for social justice and environmental equity.



The geographic distribution of the worst polluters is no accident. Central and South Asia’s polluted cities grapple with the intertwined problems of unmanaged urban expansion, unchecked industrialisation, and weak environmental governance. This situation mirrors the struggle for effective governance and equal access to resources in highly polarised societies.


The report’s message is clear: polluted air isn’t just an environmental issue, it’s a social and political one. Clean air, a fundamental right, becomes a luxury for some while a health threat for others, exacerbating existing social inequalities and highlighting the need for environmental policies that prioritise the well-being of all humans and non-humans. Experts like Frank Hammes (IQAir) and Aidan Farrow (Greenpeace) emphasise the urgency and global nature of the crisis. Farrow highlights the “inequitable consequences” of air pollution, urging for solutions that address existing injustices.


The 2023 World Air Quality Report challenges us to view air pollution not just as an environmental issue, but as a factor fueling social and political tensions. It demands a shift towards environmentally just policies that bridge divides and ensure a healthy planet for all. It’s a call to action for individuals, governments, and organisations to prioritise collaboration, data transparency, and solutions that address the root causes of this crisis, fostering a healthier and more equitable world.


Read the full report here!