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Top 10 Countries With the Worst Air Quality

Climate

Everyone knows the air quality is foul in all of China's major cities, right? But a study released by the UN's World Health Organization says China is not the worst country when it comes to the air being a threat to human health. Believe it or not, it doesn't even come in the top 10.

New Delhi helps India make the top 10 list of the world's most polluted cities.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The most unbreathable air is actually found in Pakistan where thousands die each year due to poor air quality. It's followed by Qatar (#2), which joins its neighbors the United Arab Emirates (#8) and Bahrain (#10) on the top 10 list. All three are among the world's wealthiest countries, which has spurred rapid development and booming construction. In addition, Qatar and the UAR are major oil- and natural gas-producing regions.

Afghanistan (#3) is fueled by traffic congestion in its capital city of Kabul as well as its high poverty level, which causes people to use unhealthy items like tires for fuel.

Many people first became aware of Bangladesh, which borders on India, when a humanitarian crisis there led ex-Beatle George Harrison to do his fundraising Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. The populous country also has a pollution crisis: it places three cities among the world's top 20 most polluted, the only country other than India and Iran to have more than one.

Speaking of which, Iran (#5) has a huge problem, with four cities among the world's 20 most polluted. Congestion, traffic, construction, and a booming oil and gas extraction industry combine to make breathing difficult here.

Egypt (#6) may be known for its cultural history epitomized by the pyramids. Unfortunately, its energy sources are also stuck in the fossil-fuel past, which together with its increased industrialization, has made its air unbreathable.

One might think of Mongolia as being the wide open spaces with fresh, clean air, but it checks in at #7 on the most polluted list. Long, cold winters and not a lot of renewable energy sources means lots of coal is burned, and it has significant mining and oil industries. Its largest city, Ulan Bator, has a population of only 1.4 million, dwarfing most major metropolises. But it's one of the world's most polluted.

And finally, coming in at #9, between the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, is India. With its huge population, extreme poverty leading to squalid conditions and extreme wealth leading to unchecked growth, a couple of handfuls of them make the most polluted list. New Delhi, population 22 million, leads the way with the world's worst air quality.

Other countries suffering from extremely poor air quality include Jordan, Nepal, Ghana and Senegal.

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The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

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"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.