News / Africa

Nigerian 'Gold Rush' Poisoning Children

Local health workers clean up a family compound contaminated by lead in the village of Dareta in Gusau, Nigeria, June 10, 2010 (file photo).
Local health workers clean up a family compound contaminated by lead in the village of Dareta in Gusau, Nigeria, June 10, 2010 (file photo).
Heather Murdock

ABUJA, Nigeria  - The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says at least 4,000 children are suffering from lead poisoning as a result of artisanal gold mining in Zamfara State in Nigeria. The group says emergency federal funds are needed to prevent many of these children from dying. Activists say the funding has been approved, but none of it has been made available to help the people in Zamfara.

Zamfara State is literally sitting on a gold mine. Nigeria's Doctors Without Borders head, Ivan Gayton, says since gold prices surged in recent years, small time miners can sometimes sell their gold for as much 70 or 80 percent of its international market value.

This means villagers who were living on a few dollars a day, are now living on $10 or $15 a day. But unsafe mining practices are releasing so much lead into the community that it is killing local children. Roughly 400 children have died in the past two years, thousands are awaiting emergency treatment, and nobody knows how many others are in need of urgent care.

Untreated, lead poisoning can cause a wide array of physical and developmental disabilities, but for these children, with 20 to 70 times the amount of lead in their blood than is considered safe, it often leads to seizure, coma and death.

Gayton says if safe mining practices are introduced, contaminated villages are cleaned up and the children are treated, the crisis could be contained.

"Safer mining is possible," said Gayton. "It's absolutely possible for these people to pursue this economic activity with the resources that they are living on top of without finding death and contamination."

At a conference in Abuja, activists and scientists discussed strategies to help Zamfara. Gayton says one of the purposes of the meeting was to convince federal officials to take action. He says $5 million needed for cleanup operations and establishing safe mining practices has already been promised, but the money is nowhere in sight.

The conference, he added, did not appear to convince officials to release the funds.

"Minister of Mines, Minister of Environment, Minster of Health were not able to attend," added Gayton. "Neither were their permanent secretaries or their deputies so we really didn't have any decision making presence at the conference."

Zamfara Commissioner for the Environment Mouktar Lugga says seven villages have already been cleaned up. He says if the state can get help, in a few years, Zamfara could be known for its successful use of resources, not its suffering.

"Children are falling sick and the government -- the state government -- is doing all we can espouse to see that this problem is brought to a good conclusion. But honesty we have a lot in our hands," said Lugga.

Doctors Without Borders says older children and adults may also be sick, but they have not tested them because lead has the most impact on small children. Gayton says banning gold mining is not an option because as long as the price of gold remains high, the "gold rush" will continue.

You May Like

Video Obama to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President says US will take leadership role for a global response to deadly Ebola virus that is ravaging West Africa More

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.

Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More