Global Air Inequality Summed Up in 2 Graphs

Here’s a simple question: Does air quality correlate with how well a country is doing economically? One way to explore the question is to compare country-level annual PM2.5 data from the 2014 World Health Organization Outdoor Air Pollution Database and 2014 World Bank GDP per capita by country data. Both imperfect proxies of either a quantity we’re actually seeking, but, nevertheless, there is a remarkable level of correlation:

Check out the interactive visualization here to see which countries are which (If you’re particularly curious about those three Asia-Pacific outliers, they’re Bahrain, UAE and Qatar, going from left to right).

But there’s a hidden story in the graph above — one often overlooked when talking about air quality measurements around the world. Instead of looking at the correlation between a country’s economy and air quality levels, let’s take a look at where there’s data, and, more importantly, where there is not:

GDP per capita in USD. Sources: PM2.5 annual average concentrations are from 2014 WHO Air Pollution Database and the GDP per capita data is from 2014 World Bank data.

Then you see another story: The lower a country’s GDP per capita, the less likely it is to have long-term air quality data available within the country. In fact, only ~30% of countries with a GDP per capita of 10,ooo USD or less have data.

And according to the trend in the first figure, those are the very places where such data are likely needed the most.