Smoggy Cities
Environment

Smoggy Cities

Ghostly images of some of the world's most polluted metropolises

A general view shows Yekaterinburg city blanketed by smog from peat fire, Russia October 15, 2021.
A bird's eye view of Yekaterinburg, Russia, blanketed in smog from peat fire, on October 15, 2021. REUTERS/Alexei Kolchin

Originally coined a century ago, the term smog described a combination of smoke and fog. But scientists have since gained more knowledge about the chemical processes that result in smog—the thick, hazy layer of air that blankets some cities, towns, and rural areas. Comprised mostly of ground-level ozone and particulate matter, it is a form of air pollution that can seriously damage respiratory health.

The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution kills 7 million people each year. But it does not affect the world equally. People living in cities in low- and middle-income countries—including Bangladesh, India, China, and Pakistan—suffer most from poor air quality.

Scientists know that vehicle emissions, industrial pollution, and solvents used to manufacture plastics, textiles, and agricultural products contribute to smog, as well as particulate matter from fires, construction, and power plants. This knowledge should, in theory, make curbing smog a no-brainer. But policies to address sources of smog and reduce pollution are often politically unpopular or unenforced.

To call attention to the global problem of smog, we've compiled a gallery of images featuring major cities that suffer from high levels of smog and other types of air pollution.

Dhaka, Bangladesh
a man adjusts a string tied to a tree on the banks of the Yamuna river on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India
A fisherman stands on a wooden boat as smog covers high rise buildings seen in the background, at the north coast of Jakarta, Indonesia, on August 28, 2021. 
Buildings are seen as fog blankets the city of Skopje, Macedonia October 28, 2020.
A man stands at a lookout point over Tehran following an increase in air pollution in Tehran, Iran,
A man, illuminated by blue lights, walks under the Brankov bridge amidst dense fog and smog in Belgrade, Serbia, on January 15, 2020.
People walk in a park amid dense fog and smog in Lahore, Pakistan, on December 21, 2019
A farmer burns a sugar cane field at night as local growers try to avoid arrest by authorities who banned the practice in an effort tp curb smog in Suphan Buri province, north of Bangkok, Thailand, on January 20, 2020
A man walks in the Sanlitun shopping district on a polluted day, in Beijing, China,
A man works on a garbage dump as black smoke rises in the background on the outskirts of the city, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Mexico City, Mexico, on April 27, 2020.
Women walk with their belongings amid smog in Sukhbaatar district of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on January 31, 2019.
People wearing protective masks hold electric candles as they take part in a campaign to raise awareness about air pollution in Kolkata, India, on November 12, 2019.
Smoke is seen over ArcelorMittal steel plant in Krakow, Poland, on August 15, 2019. 
A girl holding a balloon looks towards the sky during a smoggy day as the government has ordered schools to close for four days after the air pollution climbed to hazardous levels, forcing millions of students to stay home across the country,
A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a cloud of smoke from a smoldering pile of rubbish along a road in Karachi, Pakistan, on October 13, 2021. 
Close
Dhaka, Bangladesh a man adjusts a string tied to a tree on the banks of the Yamuna river on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India A fisherman stands on a wooden boat as smog covers high rise buildings seen in the background, at the north coast of Jakarta, Indonesia, on August 28, 2021.  Buildings are seen as fog blankets the city of Skopje, Macedonia October 28, 2020. A man stands at a lookout point over Tehran following an increase in air pollution in Tehran, Iran, A man, illuminated by blue lights, walks under the Brankov bridge amidst dense fog and smog in Belgrade, Serbia, on January 15, 2020. People walk in a park amid dense fog and smog in Lahore, Pakistan, on December 21, 2019 A farmer burns a sugar cane field at night as local growers try to avoid arrest by authorities who banned the practice in an effort tp curb smog in Suphan Buri province, north of Bangkok, Thailand, on January 20, 2020 A man walks in the Sanlitun shopping district on a polluted day, in Beijing, China, A man works on a garbage dump as black smoke rises in the background on the outskirts of the city, as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Mexico City, Mexico, on April 27, 2020. Women walk with their belongings amid smog in Sukhbaatar district of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, on January 31, 2019. People wearing protective masks hold electric candles as they take part in a campaign to raise awareness about air pollution in Kolkata, India, on November 12, 2019. Smoke is seen over ArcelorMittal steel plant in Krakow, Poland, on August 15, 2019.  A girl holding a balloon looks towards the sky during a smoggy day as the government has ordered schools to close for four days after the air pollution climbed to hazardous levels, forcing millions of students to stay home across the country, A woman wearing a protective mask walks past a cloud of smoke from a smoldering pile of rubbish along a road in Karachi, Pakistan, on October 13, 2021. 
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Haydn Welch is a program coordinator with the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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