News / Africa

Nigeria Pledges to Clean Up Deadly Lead Poisoning

Village girls watch from a broken wall as local health workers remove earth contaminated by lead from a family compound in the village of Dareta in Gusau, Nigeria, June 10, 2010.
Village girls watch from a broken wall as local health workers remove earth contaminated by lead from a family compound in the village of Dareta in Gusau, Nigeria, June 10, 2010.
Heather Murdock
ABUJA — The Nigerian government is preparing to release more than $4 million to clean up the site of the worst outbreak of lead poisoning in modern history. 

International aid group Doctors Without Borders says it fears that without measures to ensure the funds reach the communities, thousands more children could be infected by what they call "staggering" levels of poison. 
A few years ago, gold prices surged and small-time miners in Nigeria’s Zamfara State increased their incomes as much as tenfold, to $10 or $15 a day.  Since then, lead poisoning associated with the mining has killed hundreds of children and about 4,000 are still sick.
In June, the Nigerian government pledged more than $4 million to clean up the lead.

Now, as they get ready to disperse the funds, some people worry that with so much cash being spread around in a country well known for corruption, some of the funds may disappear.
“I think everyone in Nigeria has seen programs gone awry due to issues of accountability.  It is my fervent hope that this will be an exception because this is not a game.  Children are dying.  It’s really important that corruption not derail this effort,” said Ivan Gayton, head of Nigeria’s Doctors Without Borders.

He says thousands more children could be infected, risking death or severe brain damage if the cleanup is not successful.  Human Rights Watch says children have been found in Zamfara with as much as 70 times the amount of lead in their blood than is considered safe.  
But Gayton says people continue gold mining despite the danger.  He says if authorities attempt to enforce a recently-reported ban on gold mining, it will only drive miners underground.  Fear already keeps many parents from reporting that their children are sick, he says.
“People are very poor there and when they come across this fairly lucrative economic activity they can do they’re afraid to lose it.  And I have to say, if it’s a choice between poisoning your child in the future but being able to feed your child today," said Gayton. "It may sound easy for us to say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t do this.’  But it's very hard to not go out and earn the money that allows you [to] feed your child today.”

Gayton says after the villages are cleaned up, safer mining practices need to be put into place and sick children need treatment.  He says he hopes that some of the government funds allocated for clean-up will be diverted towards establishing safer mines for the future and urges authorities to both literally and figuratively “get the lead out.”

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Comment Sorting
by: Ngwasi Chibikom from: Bamenda, Cameroon
September 04, 2012 11:05 PM
Yes, aid that never reaches it's intended destination would have no impact on the affected community. How does "aid" really amount to aid? Lead poisoning in today's Nigeria!!!? I hope Nigeria would live up to it's promise!!!!!! Let that money meet it's purpose, & not line the pockets of bureaucrats instead!

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 04, 2012 12:05 PM
In a country where pharmacists open their eyes and load powder in capsules for children's medication in collaboration with government agencies, how can you expect that the government is going to do anything to save these children? The government that sees opportunity to make money in security breaches, who is going to monitor them to ensure that the right thing is done? It is a hopeless case, and by the end of the exercise, someone is going to smile to the bank while the problem continues to be the peasants' headache. The government at all levels in the country trade with people's lives and pay only lip service to alleviation programs they institute. This is not going to be an exception.
In Response

by: NigeriaHealth from: Nigeria
September 05, 2012 5:32 AM
I Just hope that the government of the day do something about this lead poisoning before this situation get worse than it is now. The Health of Nigerians should be Paramount to any elected leader
In Response

by: Jay from: Nigeria
September 05, 2012 3:58 AM
Thanks to the Federal Goverment for making the promise, i pray the money will be released and used for what is meant for and not in somebody's fat account or pocket. And thanks to Doctors Without Borders for treating the children too.

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