About US$4m is required for an immediate clean-up of the environment to save the lives of thousands of children in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara where villages have remained contaminated with Lead, the Human Rights Watch has said.
The group in a news conference in Lagos, Tuesday, said that the amount would also cover the implementation of safer mining processes as well as testing and treatment of all children at risk for Lead poisoning.
While launching a new video, ‘A Heavy Price: Lead Poisoning and Gold Mining in Zamfara State’; the group stated that the federal government has remained mum on the epidemic which has claimed the lives of more than 400 children, according to official estimates.
Artisanal gold mining – small scale mining done with rudimentary tools – is common in gold-rich Zamfara State.
In 2010, unsafe mining practices in dozens of villages in the state led to the “worst Lead poisoning epidemic in modern history.”
Exposed to Danger
Recent findings by Human Rights Watch in Zamfara State showed that children are exposed to Lead dust when they process the ore in the mines, when their miner relatives return home covered with Lead dust, and when the Lead-filled ore is manually or mechanically crushed at home.
“Between 1,500 and 2,000 children under the age of 5 have been exposed to extremely high level of Lead for at least two years,” said Babatunde Olugboji, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch.
Healthcare workers in Zamfara told the Human Rights Watch that there have also been high rates of infertility and miscarriage among affected adults.
“There seem to be an issue of mother to child transmission (of the chemical) going on now. This is a very delicate situation,” Mr. Olugboji added.
Medical workers in Nigeria reported that the Lead concentration in the Zamfara State ore is so toxic that in 2010, villages like Abare, Dareta, Duza, Sunke, Tungar Daji, Tungar Guru, and Yargalma recorded unprecedented high levels.
“The mortality rate was estimated as high as 40 percent among children who showed symptoms of Lead poisoning,” said Mr. Olugboji.
Jane Cohen, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that immediate remediation efforts and the co-operation of the federal government are vital to providing a lasting solution.
“Remediation needs to start immediately, before the next rainy season,” said Ms. Cohen.
“If remediation begins but is not completed, the rainy season would actually make a dire situation much worse,” she added.
The Zamfara State government, in partnership with international organizations like Medecins Sans Frontiers and the United States Center for Disease Control, has treated over 1,500 children with acute Lead poisoning.
However, thousands more children urgently need the life-saving chelation therapy treatment that removes the Lead from the body via urination.
‘Uncommitted federal government’
Ms. Cohen said that efforts to get the commitment of the federal government have not been successful.
“There have been several visits from high profile federal government officials but no real commitment,” she said.
“We have met with the Minister of Mines and Steel several days ago.
“His response to us was that they know about the situation…but currently the ministry does not have resources to commit to this,” said Ms. Cohen.
In the short video, which tries to show the impact of Lead poisoning on the lives of the locals in Zamfara State; Amina, 20, narrates how she lost three of her six children to Lead poisoning.
“By failing to address this epidemic, the Nigerian government is needlessly sacrificing its children,” said Mr. Olugboji.