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

WHO: Anti-Ebola Efforts Should Focus on West Africa

Official says WHO is 'reasonably confident' countries bordering those hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak are not seeing the virus crossing their borders More

South Sudan Crisis Threatens Development

Economic costs and lost development opportunities in South Sudan have erased what little progress the country has made since independence in 2011 More

Ukrainian PM Warns: Russia May Try to Disrupt Sunday Poll

Arseniy Yatsenyuk orders full security mobilization for parliamentary election to prevent ‘terrorist acts’ from being carried out 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid