As Indonesia’s forests burn, haze clouds parts of Visayas, Mindanao

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 17) — Parts of the Visayas and Mindanao are seeing hazy skies amid neighboring Indonesia’s forest fires, officials said.

Regional offices of the Environment Management Bureau (EMB) have confirmed the existence of haze in Central Visayas and SOCCSKSARGEN, but have not linked this directly to the Indonesia fires.

However, the EMB has warned Sunday that intense forest fires in Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent weeks could cause “high levels of air pollution” to be blown towards the southern part of the Philippines in the coming days.

The EMB’s regional offices are conducting air quality tests to determine whether pollution has reached dangerous levels.

Air quality in the towns of General Santos City, Koronadal City and Tupi in South Cotabato was in “good and fair condition” as of Saturday.

This would not be the first time that haze from Indonesia has reached the Philippines. In 2015, haze — made up of fine dust, smoke or light vapor that obscures part of the atmosphere — clouded southern Mindanao and reached all the way to Bohol.

Health officials then warned that haze may lead to eye irritation, itchy and runny nose, sneezing, dry throat and coughs.

Intense forest fires have raged across the Indonesian regions of Sumatra and Kalimantan in recent weeks. More than 930,000 hectares of land have been razed, hundreds of residents evacuated, and more than 9,000 personnel have been deployed to battle the flames, according to CNN Indonesia.

Nearby, Singapore and Malaysia have both choked in a dense haze all week, with air quality reaching unhealthy levels.

The fires were allegedly caused by farmers using slash and burn techniques to clear the ecologically rich land — the same practice that led to uncontrollable fires in the Brazilian Amazon this summer.

Cotabato-based journalist Roland Ortillano and Cebu City-based journalist Dale Israel contributed to this report.