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The World’s Worst Air Isn’t in Beijing or New Delhi

Residents of Temuco, a tiny town in Chile, largely live in poverty and are forced to burn cheap, wet firewood to keep warm.

A man burns dried leaves in the outskirts in Temuco.

A man burns dried leaves in the outskirts in Temuco.

Photographer: Luis Hidalgo/AFP/Getty Images

Nestled in a valley in central Chile, near lakes and snowcapped mountains, sits one of the world’s most polluted cities.

Every winter, sleepy Temuco plunges to the bottom of global air quality rankings. While notoriously polluted megacities such as Beijing and New Delhi have populations almost 100 times that of the tiny Chilean town, contributing to round the clock traffic and factory activity, Temuco’s contamination doesn’t come from economic activity. It comes from poverty.