News / Africa

Gold Feeds - And Poisons - Nigerian Children

Nigeria’s Glittery Poisoni
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Heather Murdock
October 18, 2012 1:25 AM
The village of Bagega, Nigeria, is the epicenter of Nigeria’s gold rush and what activists say is the worst outbreak of lead poisoning in recent history. The government has promised a life-saving cleanup, but small children continue to play in toxic dirt and activists say time is running out. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Bagega.
Nigeria’s Glittery Poison
Heather Murdock
About 20 miles from the nearest paved road or light switch, the village of Bagega, Nigeria is the epicenter of the worst lead poisoning outbreak that anyone can remember. The government has promised millions of dollars for a massive life-saving cleanup, but small children continue to play in toxic dirt, and activists say time is running out.
 
At a gold-processing site, men hammered away at rocks. As he worked, Ismail explained how it’s done.
 
He said that first they crush the rocks, then they feed the pebbles into an electric flour mill, powered by a small generator. Gold is then extracted from the sand. As they worked, an unusual kind of dust billows from the hammers and machines, covering Ismail’s body and clothes. It’s dust that is laden with lead.
 
Casualties and rampant sickness

Activists say hundreds of children have been killed in this region over the past few years, and thousands have been crippled by the lead from the mining and processing of gold here in Zamfara State in northern Nigeria.

Many villages in the region already have been cleaned up and survivors have been treated. Some of those villages lost more than 40 percent of their children before the outbreak subsided.

  • This one-year-old child began convulsing in late August. His father traveled six hours on a motorcycle to the nearest hospital. Aid workers say as long he lives in Bagega, a village contaminated by lead, the baby cannot be cured. (H. Murdock for VOA)
  • Children gather water in Bagega, Nigeria, where thousands have been exposed to lead poisoning. Doctors say until the village is cleaned up, they can't test or treat the children. (H. Murdock for VOA)
  • At this mining site, a particularly large chuck of rock containing gold is hauled out of the pits. (H. Murdock for VOA)
  • Dr. Paul Eze says infected children in Zamfara have extremely high levels of lead in their blood and some are left crippled for life. Human Rights Watch says at least 400 children under 5 have been killed since the outbreak began. (H. Murdock for VOA)
  • Without running water at the mining sites, many miners wear their dusty clothes home, inadvertantly exposing their children to lead poison. (H. Murdock for VOA)

In Bagega, however, thousands of children continue to be exposed every day. The government has promised more than $4 million for cleanup, but so far nothing appears to be happening.

Medicine ready

The head of Nigeria's Doctors Without Borders branch, Ivan Gayton, said they have the medicine and are ready to treat the children, but they can’t do anything until the lead is cleaned up, a process they call remediation. Right now in Bagega, he said, children are playing in poison dirt, getting sick when they put their hands in their mouths.
 
“It has been three years that the children of Bagega have been waiting for this environmental remediation that makes them eligible for treatment," said Gayton. "It’s not that we don’t want to treat without the remediation, it’s that we can’t. If there’s no environmental remediation, our medicine is useless. We might as well be giving sugar pills. So there’s nothing we can do for our patients who are suffering and dying.”
 
Gayton said if cleanup doesn’t begin this month, it could be too late to complete the process before the rainy season begins next year.  

Lead-poisoning effects linger

Dr. Paul Eze treats lead poisoning victims at a hospital in Anka, a small city that can be reached from the village of Bagega by motorcycle in about an hour during the dry season. It takes much longer when it rains. He said that while many children have died from lead poisoning in the region, most infected children survive, although the effects of the poisoning linger.

“Lethargy, unconsciousness. They could also have other neurological impairments, like developmental delay, reduced intelligence. In the long run, some of them eventually develop cerebral palsy and loss of the use of the limbs,” Eze said.

Despite the horrors lead poisoning can inflict, miners in Bagega say they won’t quit because they need the money to survive.  
 
Hassan Mousa, a miner, said he can now make hundreds of dollars a week - twice what he used to make in a whole year when he was a farmer.  

A couple of months ago, he added, his one-year-old baby had a high fever and began to convulse. He rented a motorcycle and spent nearly six hours driving through 20 miles of mud and rain to get help.

Poverty versus illness

Aid workers said they told him to move out of Bagega so the baby could be treated. They said it's typical, though, for parents to risk lead poisoning over extreme poverty, and they're not surprised that Mousa hasn’t left.    
 
At the mining site, about 20 minutes away by motorcycle through the bush, another miner, Kaminu, said gold mining is the best thing that ever happened to him.   
 
While his colleagues dig with shovels, raising old plastic jerrycans of rocks out of the narrow pits on ropes, Kaminu prepares for his shift, 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.
 
He said he has heard of the dangers of lead poisoning, but he’s not concerned because he drinks milk - a treatment that doctors say is not based on medical science.
 
Other miners are more worried about mining bans the government has threatened to enforce than they are about lead poisoning in the village.  
 
If they don’t clean up the village their children may continue to get sick, they said. But if they shut down the mines, they won't have enough money to survive.

You May Like

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
October 22, 2012 5:15 PM
So who's buying this gold and why are they not held accountable?


by: Sigrid from: Vermont
October 17, 2012 7:46 AM
Adults are not immune to lead exposure - what about adult lead poisoning? Merely breathing in such dust exposes everyone; it doesn't have to be eaten.


by: Mpakena from: Kenya
October 16, 2012 5:03 PM
Nigeria... Kenya... they treat their own like something less than monkeys... do you think Obama is grateful...??? how narrowly he missed being one of these children... do you really think he is grateful??? somehow, I don't think so...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Faminei
X
Daniel Schearf
November 23, 2014 4:32 PM
During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video Law Enforcement, Activists in Ferguson Agree to Keep Peace

Authorities in Ferguson, Missouri, say they have agreed with protest leaders to maintain peace when a grand jury reaches its decision on whether to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of a black teenager. Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, has been the scene of intermittent violence since the August 9 shooting intensified long-simmering antagonism between the police and the African-American community. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid