The Nigerian government has stood back and watched while hundreds of children in the northwestern state of Zamfara have died of lead poisoning, and hundreds more been affected by it over the past two years, say rights groups and the local authorities.
At least 400 children who had worked in artisanal gold mines were reported to have died in Zamfara State in 2010, in what Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes as “the worst lead poisoning epidemic in modern history”. Yet since then the government has taken little action to curb the mining or make communities more aware of its dangers.
“[So far] the federal government has played virtually no role. They just sent some high ranking people to the site, and gave a tiny bit of money,” said HRW researcher Jane Cohen. “Under international law they have an obligation to look after their citizens.”
The lead poisoning is caused by artisanal gold mining – the ore in Zamfara State also tends to be rich in lead, so when it is crushed to extract gold, lead dust is released. Children are exposed when relatives return home covered in the dust, when ore-bearing rocks are crushed in people’s homes, or through working in the mines themselves.
Children are highly susceptible to lead poisoning: short-term effects include convulsions, loss of consciousness, and blindness; serious long-term effects are anaemia, renal failure, brain damage, and impotence, according to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
Working with the Zamfara State government and the US Centers for Disease Control, MSF has been giving chelation therapy – a treatment to remove metals from the body – to 2,500 children since the crisis was identified in 2010. Of these, 2,000 are still receiving treatment.
An estimated 2,000 children urgently need treatment in Bagega village, as well as children in a further seven contaminated villages, according to Cohen.
Read more of the story here at the IRIN news service:
NIGERIA: Calls for more action on child lead poisoning