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Ninety-nine of the world's 100 most environmentally at-risk cities are in Asia, according to a new report. 

The Cities@Risk series, a section of the Environmental Risk Outlook report by data modelling company Verisk Maplecroft, ranks the world’s 576 largest cities on their exposure to various environmental threats, like air and water pollution, storms, droughts, flooding, extreme heat and dwindling water supplies.

The global index reveals 37 cities are located in China and 43 in India. 

Together, the two Asian superpowers account for around 286 million of the 336 million individuals living in cities at extreme risk of pollution.

India, meanwhile, accounts for 13 of the world’s 20 highest environmental risk locations, with Delhi coming in second place, followed by the southeastern city of Chennai, Agra and Kanpur.

"Pollution is the main threat to the health of the country’s huge urban populations, with Indian cities making up 19 of the 20 most at risk in our Air Quality Index,” the report states. “Noxious air caused almost one in five deaths in India in 2019.” 

The world’s most at-risk city is Jakarta due to its “dire air pollution” and threats from earthquakes and flooding. 

Outside central and east Asia, Lagos in Nigeria, Lima in Peru, Naples in Italy and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia are the cities most at risk of environmental threats for their respective regions. 

Cities most at risk from natural hazards like earthquakes, tsunamis and floods per region include Durban in South Africa, Santiago in Chile, Guangzhou in China, Milan in Italy and Istanbul in Turkey.

Lagos and Lima likewise are most at risk for air and water pollution, alongside Delhi, Warsaw and Abu Dhabi.

According to the United Nations, by 2050, up to 5.7 million people could be living in areas where water is scarce for at least one month a year. 

The only category where an Asian city doesn’t lead is when it comes to climate change as a significant threat.

Kananga in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lagos in Nigeria and Luanda in Angola, alongside Port-au-Prince in Haiti and Sanaa in Yemen, are the cities more at risk of climate change than any city in the Asian continent.

Also in the extreme risk category is the Venezuelan capital of Caracas as well as Karachi in Pakistan, Manila in the Philippines and Jakarta in Indonesia. 

Some of the world’s safest city environments include Krasnoyarsk in Siberia, Oslo, Glasgow, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Vancouver and Ottawa.

“Cairo looks like a good alternative [in the Middle East and North Africa region], with one of the only low-risk water stress scores in the region and comparatively better water and air quality,” the report explains. “In South America, Uruguayan capital Montevideo, Paraguayan counterpart Asunción and Argentina’s Rosario rank alongside Copenhagen and Montreal in the global list.”

“Asia’s lowest risk cities are Mongolia’s Ulaanbaatar and, perhaps more practically, Shizuoka in Japan,” the report adds.


Defend the Planet

99 of the World’s 100 Most Environmentally At-Risk Cities Are Located in Asia: Report

By Madeleine Keck