News / Africa

Nigeria Ponders How to Stop Gold Mining Poison

Local mining officials mediate disputes when a particularly large chunk of gold is discovered at this Zamfara mine (VOA - H. Murdock).
Local mining officials mediate disputes when a particularly large chunk of gold is discovered at this Zamfara mine (VOA - H. Murdock).
Heather Murdock
— Since the price of gold spiked a few years ago, residents of Zamfara State in northern Nigeria have been digging homemade mines in and around their villages.  Officials blame these unregulated operations for a lead poisoning outbreak that has killed hundreds of children, but activists say punishing miners will only deepen the health crisis.
 
Sani Bila, the head of a local miners association, squats on top of a pile of rocks as men shovel in nearby shallow pits.  He picks up two rocks: one that contains gold ore and one without.  The gold rock is much heavier.
 
Bila says gold mining in this region has exploded in recent years.
 
"They used to sell gold for less than $10 a gram but now they get about $30," he said.  "As a result, a lot more people are mining, and a lot fewer are struggling to survive on a dollar or two a day, which used to be the average income around here."
 
Health workers remove earth contaminated by lead from a family compound in the village of Dareta in Gusau, Nigeria, June 10, 2010.Health workers remove earth contaminated by lead from a family compound in the village of Dareta in Gusau, Nigeria, June 10, 2010.
x
Health workers remove earth contaminated by lead from a family compound in the village of Dareta in Gusau, Nigeria, June 10, 2010.
Health workers remove earth contaminated by lead from a family compound in the village of Dareta in Gusau, Nigeria, June 10, 2010.
Officials say this mining boom has also caused what activists say is the worst lead poisoning outbreak in history, with thousands of children severely infected.  Gold in Zamfara is found in rocks that when crushed produce lead dust that sticks to the miners' clothes and bodies.
 
Thousands of children have been treated for severe lead poisoning.  Thousands more have been exposed in a nearby village where a massive clean up has yet to commence, despite government promises.  
 
At a conference in the capital, Abuja, State Minister of Health Muhammad Ali Pate says to prevent future lead poisoning, the government needs to stop illegal small-time mining.

“People do illegal mining and bring their mining products home and process it.  Inadvertently, they poison their environment with lead which ends up in their children," said Pate.
 
No one disputes that much of the mining is technically illegal, with bans in place, and that miners don’t own the titles to their mines.
 
But still, the work continues.  Local officials openly delay enforcing bans and Nigeria’s Doctors Without Borders head Ivan Gayton says most miners don’t even know they are supposed to have titles.

“The villagers, having been in this area for thousands of years, and thinking it quite normal that whatever is beneath the ground in their own villages is available for them for whatever they chose to do with it.  In fact they’re not even aware that in 2007 the federal government allocated these resources to mostly mineral speculators.  Mostly people who don’t even have any connection to Zamfara State," said Gayton.
 
International corporations are already eyeing the gold and mining leaders fear that without legal status, the locals could be pushed out.   But, they say, if they can organize, they may be able to collectively buy back the titles to some of the minerals before it's too late.
 
In the meantime, Gayton says the threat of losing their businesses is already making Zamfara’s health crisis worse.  
 
Miners often don’t invest in safer equipment, he says, because they know they can be shut down any day.  Parents are also afraid to report lead poisoning because if the bans are enforced, it would crush their local economies, leaving their children without enough food or healthcare.
 
This mine, like most in the region, is deep in the bush.  
 
Hassan Haruna, the secretary of the local mining association, says miners know their operation is illegal, but they went to the state capital, Gusau, for help and still have no license.

"They told us to form an organization and we did that.  We formed an organization.  We went to Gusau and got our certificate for the mining.  But the only thing is the license.  We don’t know where to find the license," said Haruna.
 
Haruna says they won't stop mining, despite lead poisoning and legal difficulties.  They are trying to teach miners how to keep lead out of their homes, he says, and Zamfara’s children need money to eat.

You May Like

Is Air Travel Safe?

Aviation expert says despite tragic losses of Malaysian Airlines flights 370 and 17, industry experienced lowest fatality rate in recorded history last year More

Multimedia 100 Days Later, Nigerian Girls Still Held

Activists holding rallies in Nigeria and several other countries to mark 100th day of captivity for more than 200 schoolgirls being held by Boko Haram More

Chocolate Too Bitter? Swap Sugar for Mushrooms

US food technology company develops fermentation process using mushrooms to reduce bitterness in cocoa beans, believes it will cut sugar content in candy More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
October 20, 2012 10:59 PM
Nigeria should also concentrate on solid minerals and agriculture instead of this overdependent on oil.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israeli
X
Carolyn Presutti
July 23, 2014 1:21 AM
The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video US Carriers Suspend Travel to Israel

The United States is prohibiting American carriers from flying to Israel's airport in Tel Aviv for 24 hours, because of rising violence between Israel and Hamas militants. The action was announced on Tuesday, after a rocket fired by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip landed near the airport. As VOA's Carolyn Presutti tells us, international officials soon may have to determine which combat zones are too dangerous for commercial flights.
Video

Video NASA Focuses on Earth-Like Planets

For decades, looking for life elsewhere in the universe meant listening for signals that could be from distant civilizations. But recent breakthroughs in space technology refocused some of that effort toward finding planets that may harbor life, even in its primitive form. VOA’s George Putic reports on a recent panel discussion at NASA’s headquarters, in Washington.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video US Awards Medal of Honor for Heroics in Bloodiest of Afghan Battles

U.S. combat troops are withdrawing from Afghanistan, on pace to leave the country by the end of this year. But on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama took time to honor a soldier whose actions while under fire in Afghanistan earned him the Medal of Honor. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from the Pentagon.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.

AppleAndroid