15 November 2012

Nigeria: Time Is Running Out for Lead Poisoning Victims

press release

Abuja — MSF calls on Nigerian Government and President to immediately release earmarked funds for critical environmental remediation of entire village.

Six months on from an International Lead Poisoning Conference, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) warns that time is running out to solve the Zamfara crisis. In a progress report, Time is Running Out, the medical humanitarian organisation which has been treating lead poisoned children since the start of the crisis, finds that very little action has been taken on any of the agreed action points from the conference.

Funds to tackle the Zamfara lead poisoning crisis - with a specific focus on the remediation of Bagega village - were promised by the President in May 2012, but have still not been released by the Secretary of the Government of the Federation. Remediation is a process which removes lead from the home environment. In the absence of remediation, children are continually re-exposed to the toxins and medical treatment is useless.

"Bagega is reaching crisis point," said Michael White, acting head of mission for Nigeria. "More than two and a half years after the lead poisoning disaster was first discovered, hundreds of children are still awaiting critical medical treatment. MSF is ready and willing to treat these children, but cannot do so until their homes have been environmentally remediated. It's time to get the lead out of Bagega."

Remediation was due to begin at the end of October 2012, directly after the last rainy season. The window for remediation in Bagega is closing rapidly, if the process is not started before the end of the year it will be too late before the next rainy season. This could have disastrous consequences for the community - if the funds are not released in November, MSF's chances of treating lead-poisoning victims in Bagega is drastically reduced.

MSF has been treating victims of lead poisoning in Zamfara since 2010. The medical humanitarian organisation maintains that a successful resolution to the crisis must include a three-pronged approach of professional remediation of affected villages, medical treatment to the most vulnerable victims and the implementation of safer mining practices.

MSF has been collaborating closely with TerraGraphics, an internationally-recognised remediation company that led the successful remediation of seven villages in Zamfara state in 2010.

TerraGraphics, MSF and local stakeholders are all ready to start work immediately upon the release of the funds. Both organisations have been collaborating with Government agencies and ministries to assure there is a system in place that is effective, accountable, transparent and that will guarantee the best outcomes for the communities of Bagega. This kind of collaboration ensures Nigerian participation and ownership of both process and results while assuring accountability and compliance with internationally recognised standards and best practices.

MSF and TerraGraphics have done everything in their power to address this crisis. In the end, the ultimate responsibility rests with the people, and governments, of Nigeria. Only immediate action by the Government can change the situation for the better.

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