Zamfara Lead poisoning: a case still in limbo!

It was yesterday evening when I was reading the e-copy of Leadership News, a Nigerian newspaper, that I came across this news piece on Zamfara Lead Poisoning.
It reads as follows: “Since the story of lead poisoning in Zamfara state hit the news stands, the names of the sleepy little villages of Bagega, Dareta, Abare and Yargalma continue to prominently feature in the world news”. Our correspondent in Gusau, SHEHU UMAR who recently visited these villages analyses how the catastrophic lead poisoning wraught great havoc on these farming and herding communities.

In March 2010, various media organizations all over the world beamed their search lights on these communities in their effort to perhaps be at the forefront in the timely reporting of what seemed to be the biggest lead poisoning disaster ever recorded in history.

Since then, there have been a heavy media representation in the affected villages.

LEADERSHIP WEEKEND investigation revealed that lead poisoning started when people in the  poverty stricken communities resorted to illegal mining of the gold and other mineral resources to make ends meet.

Many illegal mineral processing plants were established by the villagers in their personal residences, not minding or ignorant of the dangers associated with the mining activities.

The heavy presence of lead in the mined minerals resulted in unprotected contamination of the villagers, especially women and children.

A very large number of women and children were affected, resulting in the death of over 1000 children, while hundreds of others were deformed. Beside the deformities, health experts have also made it clear that lead poisoning could cause infertility and miscarriage in women.

Mallama Zuwaira, a house wife who lost her five year old child, Aliyu following the very large concentration of lead in his blood recounted her grief and sorrow to LEADERSHIP WEEKEND.

’He was the only child in the family and we lost him. I am pleading with the government to come to our aid to stop this for recurring’’. She wept.

This menace drew the attention of government and non-governmental organizations, such as UNICEF,WHO and Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF),  the world over.

These organizations partner with the federal and state governments by sending experts to provide medical aid and sensitise the affected communities on how to take preventive measures against lead poisoning.

Government on its part had embarked on massive sensitization and enlightenment campaigns against the danger of lead poisoning. It has also commenced a crackdown on these illegal miners.

LEADERSHIP WEEKEND checks in  one of the illegal mining sites in Bagega village in Anka local government area of the state revealed that poverty plays a major role in this problem, as youths, mostly in their early twenties were busy digging under ground tunnels in search of the precious minerals, especially gold.

One of the illegal miners who goes by the name Haruna Kaba told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that he would never abandon the mining sites until he was satisfied that he had got what he wanted.

‘’Any attempt to stop people from these mining activities means government wants to invite security problems, because these mining activities provide jobs for thousands of unemployed youths and they eke out a living here’’. He explained.

Speaking on the dangers associated with the mining, the gold digger said, “Every living soul would taste the bitter pill of death, whether a miner or not”, he explained, as he continued with his mining activities resigning him self to fate.

Investigations further revealed that the major attraction, in spite of the health hazard, is that the youths are making a lot of money from mining.  It was learnt that recently a group of three miners in the same mining pit made six million Naira. Moreover, there is a ready market for the gold because dealers from neighbouring countries  have flooded the mining sites and the villages.

Alhaji Ibrahim Garba, one of the  dealers told LEADERSHIP WEEKEND that he buys a gramme of gold at the rate of six thousand Naira.

‘’The miners don’t need to go to Gusau to sell the gold as soon as they bring their product we weigh it and then pay them. An average miner makes about 50 thousand a day’’ he said.

Four gold miners were recently buried alive in the underground tunnels they dug themselves and all effort to rescue them failed. Even though the illegal miners have deserted the site where that particular incident happened, other illegal mining sites still flourish in the area.

The state governor, Alhaji Abdulaziz Yari has said that the government would not stop illegal mining activities in the state. Only recently, a remediation project was flagged off in Bagega village and this is one of the drastic actions that was taken to end the calamity that threatens to wipe away the entire generation.

The state government also revealed that at least N2.6bn is needed to put an end to the calamitous lead poisoning through the remediation projects already started in the  affected communities of Bagega, Dareta, Yargalma and so on.

The contaminated soils in these communities is being evacuated and replaced with the safer one and international communities have since developed interest in assisting through the provision of funds and experts.

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