Over 160,000 Deaths in Five Biggest Cities Linked to Air Pollution in 2020

Air pollution has been linked to the deaths of 160,000 people in the world’s five biggest cities in 2020, according a global report by Greenpeace Southeast Asia and IQAir, the world’s largest free air quality information platform.

Of the five biggest cities, Delhi had the most deaths (54,000) due to PM2.5 air pollution in 2020 – one death per 500 people. It was followed by Tokyo (40,000) and Shanghai (39,000). Sao Paulo and Mexico City had an estimated 15,000 each. 

Greenpeace and IQAir collaborated on the ‘cost of air pollution estimator’ for 26 cities, drawing on data from over 80,000 air sensors in IQAir’s air quality database. 

The Cost Estimator is based on a methodology developed by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. The IQAir platform measures ground-level particulate matter (PM2.5) in real time and this data is then combined with a city’s population, health data, and scientific risk models to determine mortality and cost estimates.

The report estimates that Tokyo (USD$43 billion lost), Los Angeles (USD$43 billion) and  New York (USD$25 million) have paid the highest economic cost for air pollution in the past year.

“When governments choose coal, oil and gas over clean energy, it’s our health that pays the price. Air pollution from burning fossil fuels increases our likelihood of dying from cancer or stroke, suffering asthma attacks and of experiencing severe COVID-19. We can’t afford to keep breathing dirty air when the solutions to air pollution are widely available and affordable,” said Avinash Chanchal, climate campaigner at Greenpeace India.  

“Breathing should not be deadly,” said Frank Hammes, CEO of IQAir. “Governments, corporations and individuals must do more to eliminate the sources of air pollution and make our cities better places to live.”

Developing Countries Worst Affected

Air pollution kills an estimated seven million every year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Those in the developing world are disproportionately affected with 9 out of 10 people breathing air whose quality exceeds WHO guideline limits. 

Air pollution also leads to increased morbidity and healthcare costs due to disability, asthma and chronic respiratory diseases. These translate into lost income for family members and their caregivers, as well as lower economic productivity.

This was also reflected in the report which found that two cities in India lost over one-tenth of their GDP due to air pollution in 2020. Lucknow lost 14% of its GDP, followed by Delhi at 13%.

The Indo-Gangetic plain in northern India is one of the world’s worst affected regions due to air pollution. Recent evidence has linked air pollution to miscarriages and stillbirths in the region as well. 

“In most parts of the world it is now cheaper to build clean energy infrastructure than to continue investing in polluting fossil fuels, even before taking the cost of air pollution and climate change into account,” said Bondan Andriyanu, campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia. 

“As governments look to recover from the economic impact of COVID, they must create green jobs, build accessible, clean-energy powered public transport systems and invest in renewable energy sources like wind and solar.”


Image Credits: Rashed Shumon.

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