Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: 400 Kids Die From Lead Poisoning

editorial

Our leaders swear to protect our lives and property but like most of their promises, they fail at the critical moments. When there are crises, the weaknesses of our security and emergency structures are obvious.

The death of a person, ordinarily, should be a cause of concern, particularly where the death was avoidable. It is therefore alarming that the authorities ignore the illegal mining that led to the death of hundreds of Nigerians.

A United Nations emergency team that investigated the deaths in Zamfara State last year in its report said over 200 children had been killed and more than 8,000 people affected by the high level of lead poisoning in the state.

The report also said mercury levels in the air in the affected areas were nearly 500 times the acceptable limit.

The National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, put the deaths at 400 children. Other findings show that drinking water from wells in the affected areas did not meet WHO and Nigerian standards (10 micrograms per litre) for lead limits. In at least one instance, it exceeded the limit more than 10 times. Water in ponds, the major sources for domestic use and for livestock, was often highly contaminated, said the report.

Lead poisoning is related to illegal miners processing of lead-rich ore to extract gold. Deaths result from leakage of lead ore from illegal gold mining pits to water sources. Children are at more risk because their systems are not fully developed. They contacted the lead though inhaling, eating compromised food, drinking water from poisoned sources or from touching mining equipment.

Exposure to high levels of lead can damage the brain and nervous system. It causes reproductive problems and high blood pressure. Over exposure to lead causes seizures, comas and death, if not detected on time.

The lead, separated from the gold during mining, contaminate the local water supplies. The major fear remains that the deaths could continue unless the villagers have safe water supplies. They do not have other water sources.

Governments' poor understanding of its responsibilities to the people is clear in this case. People are dying, but the illegal mining continues. Announcements banning illegal mining are made as if they will stop the mining.

The miners are not prosecuted. How does government want to arrest the situation?

Security agencies are busy chasing petty thieves. The owners of these illegal mines, whose illegality causes the deaths of hundreds and leaves the future of others impaired, are getting away with their loot because governments do not care.

Responses to these tragedies are token, even insulting. The deaths are enough reasons to go after the illegal miners and prosecute them, but government has no such interest.

Why is government disinterested in these solid minerals, which thieves devastate, littering the land with diseases and deaths? Government must act fast to stop the deaths in Zamfara State. A first step would be to start prosecuting the illegal miners for theft and murder.

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