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The World’s 10 Most Polluted Countries

Environmental issues are a major interest of Kelley's, especially pollution, climate change, deforestation, and endangered species.


How much poison can the earth absorb and still provide a home for people, plants and animals?

The world is becoming a polluted place. The agriculture and industrialization needed to support over seven billion inhabitants is the main reason for this contamination. Some countries have environmental controls that mitigate such degradation, but many, perhaps most, have few if any controls. And if any clean-up ever happens in these dirty lands, it will be a slow and very expensive process taking place over a period of years, decades, or even longer.

But this clean-up must take place or many countries in this world will become uninhabitable!

This article offers a list of the ten most polluted countries in the world, but virtually every country has at least some pollution. To deal with this dire issue, we must educate ourselves and others about the dangers facing our planet. Perhaps joining an eco-friendly group or organization would be a good idea as well.

Now please read the list of the World’s 10 Most Polluted Countries:


10. Iran

Also known as Persia, Iran possesses some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and natural gas, and this wealth seems to come at a high cost, because the country also has some of the world’s worst air pollution, particularly in cities such as Tehran and Ahvaz, the latter of which, has the world’s worst air pollution, according to a recent study by the World Health Organization. The major cause of this foul air is that, because of international sanctions, Iran must burn in its five million vehicles the cheap, dirty gasoline produced in the country. Thousands of people per year die from this foul air, and citizens routinely wear air filters as they move around outside. To counter this problem, Iran must use cleaner fuel, retire old vehicles and put smog devices on its multitude of cars and trucks.


9. Egypt

Egypt, home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, is another country suffering from egregious air pollution. The country has millions of automobiles, which spew smog, as well as a multitude of two-stroke motorcycles, each one of which emit more pollution than 10 to 15 gasoline-driven cars. Numerous factories also pump vast amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere. Water pollution is also a major problem in Egypt, which uses the Nile River for nearly all of its fresh water, but many factories dump their waste into the river, fouling everyone’s drinking water in the process. This is a particular problem in the Nile Delta, where many factories have been built since the 1950s. Many Egyptians realize the importance of cleaning up their country, but can they do much good before catastrophe strikes?


8. Mongolia

Mongolia is generally a cold place. For eight months out of the year, people in this eastern Asian country must burn whatever they can to stay warm, whether it’s coal, wood, trash, tar-dipped bricks or even old tires. But burning such material fouls the air, of course. From December to February, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital and most populous city (1.2 million people), has some of the world’s worst air pollution, as much as six to seven times as bad as the standards set by the World health Organization (WHO). In fact, the WHO lists Ulaanbaatar as the second most polluted city in the world. Fortunately, though, Mongolia is also a windy place, and wind turbines are being constructed to generate needed electrical power, rather than using coal-burning power plants, which fill the atmosphere with sulfurous pollutants.


7. Pakistan

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Pakistan is one of the most overpopulated countries in the world, and millions of these people drive automobiles that emit 25 times more pollution than cars in countries such as the U.S. Vast numbers of motor bikes spew pollution as well. But perhaps Pakistan’s greatest environmental problem is water pollution, particularly from factory effluent and the raw sewage spewing from Pakistan’s population-choked cities. Toxic waste is buried throughout the country as well. And Polluted water exacerbates another problem facing the country: A shortage of fresh water. Polluting what little fresh water is available is incredibly stupid, but what can the common people to do about that? Without government intervention in this dire scenario, vast numbers of people in Pakistan could either perish from drinking contaminated water – or die of thirst.


6. United Arab Emirates

Another oil-rich country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) pays a heavy price for such wealth by having some of the planet’s worst air pollution, particularly in Dubai, the country’s most populous city, where traffic jams are the norm. Because of this massive usage of gasoline-driven motor vehicles, the air in the UAE is worse than that in countries such as China and India. Moreover, according to the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010, the UAE has one of world’s largest ecological footprints – 19.8 tons of carbon per capita per year, a rate higher than that of the U.S. The UAE is also notorious as one of the most wasteful countries on the planet. For example, the UAE consumes 20 billion plastic bags per year, many of which end up in the environment, often harming or killing sea life. Interestingly, according to the EPA, the global total of consumed plastic bags per year is between 500 billion and one trillion!


5. Nigeria

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, has developed rapidly in current times, making a few people rich, while many others are poor and mired in oily muck. Oil has fueled this boom – the country produces over two million barrels of crude oil per day, making it the largest producer in Africa. But, because of this massive output of black gold, Nigeria may have the world’s worst oil pollution. Hundreds of spills are reported each year and many spills are never reported, continually gushing oil into the ecosystem. Oil thefts from pipelines have led to many of these oil spills. According to a recent report by the United Nations, it could take Nigeria 25 to 30 years to clean up the oil that’s leaked into the environment over the past 50 years. Lack of environmental laws and weak regulations exacerbate this inky mess.


4. Bangladesh

Most poor, heavily populated countries are polluted to a great degree, and Bangladesh is no exception. Simply put, every person produces waste, especially sewage and trash, and poor countries have difficulty dealing with both. Such countries also have trouble forcing factories to clean their waste water before dumping it into lakes, rivers and the ocean. The Buriganga River (the Old Ganges), which flows by Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, was once a fine, pristine river, but now it’s little more than a moving septic tank, landfill and toxic waste dump. And, since clean drinking water is becoming scarce, ground water is being pumped to a great degree. Unfortunately, much of this water contains arsenic, which is killing people. Air pollution is a great problem as well, particularly in Dhaka. Every vehicle that runs on hydrocarbons spews pollutants into the air, a health hazard that kills thousands of hapless folks every year.


3. The United States of America

One may wonder why the U.S. is included on this list. Its lakes and rivers are relatively clean and most of its air breathable, so what’s up? Well, the U.S. also consumes massive amounts of food, material and energy, producing a huge carbon footprint in the process. According to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2010, the average American adds 17.3 tons of CO2 to the atmosphere every year, the highest per capita amount by any large country, and its total carbon emissions are second in the world. (In comparison, China produces the most carbon emissions, but its per capita rate is only 7.2.) The U.S. also dumps massive amounts of chemical fertilizer waste into rivers, producing dead zones. It also spews much waste from pig, cattle and chicken farms. Much of this manure contaminates water, both above and below ground. But, fortunately for the U.S., it can afford to clean up its own waste!


2. India

Naturally one of the world’s most populous countries is high on this infamous list. (India has the second highest population in the world.) According to studies done in 2011 by the World Economic Forum in Davos, experts declared that India has the worst air quality in the world. The main reason for this is that much of India’s massive population drives vehicles, virtually all of which are heavy polluters. This pollution kills as many as two million people per year. Not surprising, India is also the world’s third largest emitter of carbon, mainly because it uses coal to generate most of its electrical power. Also, all of India’s rivers are little more than running sewers. Unfortunately, people must also drink from such foul, fetid waterways, and countless numbers of them perish in the process. Ironically, this may be one way to reduce India’s vast population, which would address the pollution problem somewhat.


1. China

China has a lot going for it - and a lot going against it. China is the world’s most populous country and one of its greatest industrial powers, but it’s also the worst polluter in terms of carbon emissions. Also, in its recent pursuit to become the world’s supreme industrial power, China has heavily polluted its land, water and air. In fact, China’s air pollution, in particular, is becoming legendary. There’s also a word for it, “smogpocalypse.” But China could begin to clean up its act. It’s been estimated that an investment of $215 billion annually could dramatically improve its dirty ways. But first of all it must convert its coal burning power plants to natural gas or nuclear. China should also scrap its badly polluting old cars and trucks. Happily, China seems to be moving in this direction. In 2014, it invested more money than any other country in developing low-carbon-polluting energy sources. At any rate, it seems safe to suggest that China better do something sooner rather than later.

In 2017, China stopped construction on 100 coal-fired power plants, instead opting for wind and solar power generation. China, along with virtually every other country in the world, has signed the Paris Agreement, which urges countries to voluntarily reduce carbon emissions, thereby mitigating climate change.

Please leave a comment.

© 2015 Kelley Marks


Muhammad Tahir Khalil from Lahore on December 01, 2019:

nice informative article.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on December 14, 2016:

When I say niche markets, I am speaking about different geographic regions. Here in the Northeast, I just don't see solar or wind play a large role. As for electric cars, We have one charge station installed in a shoping center for about 1 year. I have yet to see it used once...

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 14, 2016:

I already checked out your article and probably agree with you more than I disagree. As for solar panels and electric cars, they're more than just niche markets here in California - both are becoming more economical all the time and many jobs have been created. Coal-fired plants are few and far between here. Business in California is about the future, not the past. Later!

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on December 14, 2016:

I have been folowing this for quite some times. Both solar and electric cars are niche markets and will not be competitive anytime soon. I wrote a prediction hub for the next 10 years. You might want to check it out.

I would be interested in your opinion.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 14, 2016:

Green energy is becoming more economical all the time - it's doing quite well here in California and the Chinese are starting to embrace it as well. As for coal, cleaning it costs lots of money. Also, it won't be long now before we no longer need automobiles that run on gasoline. You need to read Nat Geo, Jackclee. Some of your information seems out of date. Sorry!


Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on December 14, 2016:

Kosmo, you just said it. If no body knows, you can't say we are on the top 10 list.

With regard to fossil fuels, there are ways to make them cleaner such as clean coal...

The green energy push is counter productive. If an energy source cannot compete in the market place, it is not viable in the long run. They cannot subsidize it with credits forever.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 14, 2016:

The major problem is that nobody knows for certain how polluted our countries are and how much legislation, rules, regulations and money it would take to clean them up. At any rate, switching to green forms of energy creates lots of jobs, is friendly to the environment. Also, continuing to rely on fossil fuels for generating energy pollutes land, air and water, whether or not climate change is anthropogenic.

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on December 11, 2016:

Yet every predictions made by them have not lived up to their expectations. I wrote a hub on this topic you might want to check out. I have been studying this topic for quite a while...

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 11, 2016:

The climate change issue has definitely been heavily politicized; nevertheless, virtually every reputable scientist on the planet has said that climate change is caused by humans. Of course, there's also proof that the planet has been warming, year after year, and that ice caps and glaziers are melting. How much more evidence do you want?...

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on December 10, 2016:

I know what you are saying but it is a matter of quantity. Too much of anything can be a bad thing. CO2 that is currently on earth is a small fraction of our atmosphere. That is why the greenhouse effect is not as big a deal as some would have you believe. Climate change is not real science. It is almost a religion with some environmentalist.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 10, 2016:

CO2 and methane aren't pollutants by themselves, but when there's too much of them in the air they act as greenhouse gases, especially methane. They may not be listed as pollutants, specifically, but they might as well be. The planet Venus is a hellish world because its atmosphere is primarily CO2. Are nitrogen and phosphorous listed as pollutants? No, but too much of these elements create dead zones, such as the huge one in the Gulf of Mexico. Later!

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on December 09, 2016:

I'm sorry but CO2 is classified as a greenhouse gas but it is not a pollutant. I just attended a colloquium at the Lamont Observatory, where the speaker was describing biomass burning and the effect on air quality and climate... She has a list of pollutants and CO2 and methane gas are not listed.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on December 09, 2016:

I disagree, Jackclee, too much CO2 is a pollutant. Check out issues of "National Geographic," and then you will know. The US also pumps massive amounts of agricultural runoff into the ecosystem, creating dead zones. Animal farms also produce massive amounts of pollution, commonly known as poop and piss. The US also has over 40,000 toxic waste sites. Hey, now I'm the guy who knows a lot! Later!

Jack Lee from Yorktown NY on December 09, 2016:

Kosmo, the USA definitely do not belong on the list. The fact is CO2 is not a pollutant. It is a colorless gas that is needed for life. It is an important part of the carbon cycle that allows us to thrive.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 25, 2015:

Thanks for the comment, Genna East. Fortunately, there's always hope - for the health of the world and otherwise. But all of the countries on this list need to turn "green," especially the worst of the bunch.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on July 24, 2015:

A compelling article, and one that should be read by many. At the rate we are destroying our planet, I doubt anything will be done about this until it's too late. Perhaps it already is.

Kelley Marks (author) from Sacramento, California on July 15, 2015:

Thanks for the comment, Chantelle Porter. We're destroying our world, and we're running out of time to clean it up. China and the U.S. must lead the way. Later!

Duino on July 14, 2015:

True Story.! :/

Chantelle Porter from Ann Arbor on July 14, 2015:

Great article. Sad, but true. We have been destroying our planet for quite some time and it doesn't look like it's going to get better anytime soon.

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