Indon haze thickens, hospitals on alert

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FLIGHTS were cancelled and hospitals placed on alert on Sunday as southern and central islands were covered by thickening haze from Indonesian forest fires.

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Smog from Indonesian slash-and-burn farming has choked vast expanses of Southeast Asia for weeks, killing at least 10 people, forcing events to be shut down and schools to close across the region.

International efforts to douse the blazes have done little to clear the air, and Filipino authorities warned ash levels were becoming increasingly dangerous on the southern islands.

“The Department of Health is advising those who have breathing problems or respiratory diseases to wear face masks in areas covered by haze,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said.

Hospitals in the South were ready to receive anyone affected by the haze, he added.

Six flights to central and southern islands were canceled or delayed on Sunday because of the thickening smog, after thousands were left stranded over the past 10 days.

Pilots flying in Cebu City could only see eight kilometers ahead, weather observer John Agbay said. Visibility was also impaired in Palawan.

Coloma urged people suffering from lung illnesses or respiratory disease to use face masks.

Indonesian forest fires are an annual occurence but dry weather has made them particularly bad this year and Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Japan have all sent help to fight the blazes.

While the haze in the Philippines has been mild compared to other parts of Southeast Asia, the smoke has been largely unexpected as the islands affected lie thousands of kilometers away from the fires.

Singapore, one of the worst hit, on Sunday urged fellow Asean members to take “firm and decisive action” against the haze ahead of a group summit in Malaysia next month.

The city-state issued the call after Singaporean troops and firefighters returned from an international assistance mission on Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

WITH AFP

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