Urban pollution has taken a political toll over the world, especially as the media moves to expose more power-hungry individuals controlling these hazardous operations. Industries are given more preferential treatment, while their human counterparts are only secondary, unworthy of a healthy lifestyle.

Out of the fifty top polluted cities in the world, forty-nine of them are situated in China, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. One would imagine these four countries to do better – the stereotypical Asian is given more brainpower to deal with difficult questions at hand in cinema, but in real life that does not seem to help things on the ground.

Kuch Kuch ‘Hotan’ Hai – Hotan’s Sandy Ordeal

Hotan is an oasis town in Xinjiang, Western China. The place has a very dense Uyghur influence, due to the multiple ethnicities that live and work in the area. With a population of around five million residents according to the 2018 census, Hotan is famous for its metalwork and jewelry.

Urban pollution: Hotan, China - Sheet1
Hotan, the Oasis Town_©Pamir高原 (Roving51307662189, Jan 2020)

The 2020 reports placed Hotan in China at the top of the world’s most polluted cities, with the air quality of PM 2.5 of 110.2µg/m3 – which means the particles in the air are large enough to enter one’s bloodstream and wreak medical havoc. The numbers increase alarmingly and show no signs of slowing down. But why is Hotan in such a bad state of affairs?

Hotan’s proximity to the Taklimakan, the largest shifting sand desert, subjects it to many sandstorms, which add to the pollutants in the air to worsen the quality. The exponential industrial growth contributes to the toxins sent into the surrounding atmosphere, which affect the inhabitants of the area. Although the COVID-19 safety measures helped control the graph, 2021 saw the numbers returning to the red scale as people actively began venturing out of their houses.

Hotan’s Architecture

Hotan is a bustling town. The night markets are densely crowded and people come to the area from cities nearby to experience the dynamic culture that prevails. Once a terror-filled region, the improved security levels have also encouraged local and international tourism. Food stalls and games are a regular nightly feature and they continue into the late hours of the night.

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China’s Smog_©/www.worldbank.org/en/results/2020/06/21/china-fighting-air-pollution-and-climate-change-through-clean-energy-financing

The residential and commercial centers of Hotan resemble those found in many other Muslim countries – the congested building arrangement, the decorative jaali openings culminating in arch-shaped molds, and family-centered living. Inhabitants usually live on the first and second floors, while ground floors are used for more income-oriented purposes such as shops or restaurants, etc. The culture of the area has many influences from its South Asian and Afghan neighbors. The overwhelming Uyghur population also destabilizes the division of resources as the politically delicate nature of their circumstances causes grave problems.

Poverty and Industrialization

Due to Hotan’s status in the past, and the closeness of the desert, the town has had an issue with poverty and unemployment – both of which also means that a greater population density is an obvious part of the town. Looking to take advantage of the situation, companies began using the cheap labor that was available there, which led to competitive growth in the industrial sector. A greater number of factories have been built to cater to the growing demand for work as people seek to find jobs to support their families.

Urban pollution: Hotan, China - Sheet3
Factory Workers Happy to Make a Living_©Chen Qingqing/GT

However, not all is as rosy as a paycheque one can live on from one month to the next. The rapid industrialization meant that no proper precautionary measures were adopted, and now Hotan has been left to deal with a lot of the problems that accompany major factories. The awareness of the problem helps individuals in the town to seek help from the government, especially as they fall ill due to the hazardous air quality.

New road networks built to facilitate travel to and from the area have become a source of more traffic, most of which is industry-oriented. The authorities have taken steps to help Hotan out of this mess.

Urban pollution: Hotan, China - Sheet4
New Road Networks_©english.scio.gov.cn/chinaprojects/2018-08/02/content_57965000.htm

Hope for Hotan

The Air Pollution Program in China, released to take active measures against environmental hazards, has specific plans designed to cater to the problems caused by the energy sector in China. Financing brought in due to the program has helped to create plans whereby industries can work on reducing air pollutants and carbon emissions, increasing efficiency, and generating cleaner energy.

With the $1.3 million investment, China has been successful in lowering its carbon emissions by 2.5 million a year – something other countries should look into to improve their own spaces and the lives of residents. Renewable energy programs also began popping up in smaller areas to give more power to the more rural side of the country.

This was possible not only due to the government’s attention, but also with the help of local banks investing in training their teams, in particular the Huaxia Bank, which established a Green Finance Center focusing on “green lending”. The World Bank has closely observed the matter, encouraging the efforts put in by the organizations involved.

How Many Pandemics Do We Deal With?_©www.ft.com/content/80953219-7ca5-417e-82e8-13256fd3d2b3

China continues to observe the climatic condition of the area, and although it has not been very supportive of the phasing out of coal and fossil fuel use in the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, it has been working hard to fix its local grey skies.


Hindustan Times. 2021. China’s Hotan most polluted city in 2020, Ghaziabad at 2nd place: Report. [online] Available at: <https://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/chinas-hotan-most-polluted-city-in-2020-ghaziabad-at-2nd-place-report-101628678354854.html> 

Li, J., 2018. Characteristics of air pollution events over Hotan Prefecture at the southwestern edge of Taklimakan Desert, China. [online] Springer. Available at: <https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40333-018-0096-9> 

The World Bank. 2020. China: Fighting Air Pollution and Climate Change through Clean Energy Financing. [online] Available at: <https://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2020/06/21/china-fighting-air-pollution-and-climate-change-through-clean-energy-financing> 

Business, Technology, Startups and Science News and Trends in India | IndianWeb2.com. 2021. World Air Quality Report 2020 – Hotan in China is World’s Most Polluted City. [online] Available at: <https://www.indianweb2.com/2021/03/world-air-quality-report-2020-hotan-in.html> 

En.wikipedia.org. n.d. Pollution in China – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pollution_in_China#Air_pollution> 

English.scio.gov.cn. 2018. Southern Xinjiang gets better connected | english.scio.gov.cn. [online] Available at: <http://english.scio.gov.cn/chinaprojects/2018-08/02/content_57965000.htm> 

Qingqing, C., 2019. Industries drive Hotan development – Global Times. [online] Globaltimes.cn. Available at: <https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1159693.shtml> 

CGTN, 2021. A visit to Hotan Night Market: How do Xinjiang locals feel?.

Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23cwRm1iKE0> 


A recent graduate, Mahnoor combines her intensive studying with her love of adventure and fiction to create fresh storylines. A winner of the 2019 Literati Award, she now looks forward to working on her critical writing skills through this program. She hopes to release a series of architectural plays soon.