by Seyi Lawal
Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has criticised the Nigeria’s government for lack of action to tackle a lead poisoning epidemic that has killed 400 children and poisoned ten times as many near a gold mine in Zamfara State.
The MSN said the ministers of mines, environment and health were scheduled to attend a two-day conference concerning the poisoning but none of them showed up.
“This conference that we just spent a lot of money holding, they expressed their support for it, but none of the decision makers actually turned up,” Ivan Gayton, the head of MSF Nigeria, told Reuters. “So the opportunity to announce concrete action was to some extent really missed.”
According to Reuters, the Nigerian health ministry official reported that lead poisoning caused by illegal gold mining had killed 163 Nigerians, most of them children in 2010 alone.
Since then, the mining has continued and some 4,000 children of the miners, often from desperately poor backgrounds have been contaminated.
Miners who return from work are covered with lead, which contaminates their homes and because the body struggles to rid itself of metal, it accumulates in the blood over time. Children are particularly vulnerable because their growing nervous systems can be permanently damaged.
The villages affected, such as Dareta and Giadanbuzu, are in the poor, arid Sahel region on the southern fringe of the Sahara, where many people work as miners and subsistence farmers. No action has been taken to help them. “It does concern us that perhaps they (Nigeria’s government) don’t realise the scale of the problem and are not engaging at the level we think they should be,” Gayton said.
Gayton said the levels of lead exposure in affected areas were 100 times above internationally accepted safe norms and many victims died after coming into contact with tools, soil and water contaminated with large concentrations of lead.
Up till now, the N800 million funding proposal from the environment ministry intended to finance safe mining programmes has not materialised.