Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's decision to immediately release funds to clean up lead-contaminated villages in Nigeria will save untold lives, Human Rights Watch said today. Releasing the funds clears the way for at least 1,500 children in urgent need of life-saving medical treatment in northern Nigeria to receive care.
Jonathan had promised in May 2012 to allocate $4 million for environmental remediation and safer mining practices to address what has been described as the worst lead poisoning epidemic in modern history, but no funds had been forthcoming. This week's announcement followed a sustained awareness-raising effort by domestic and international organizations, including a joint Facebook campaign by the Nigerian Youth Climate Action Network and Human Rights Watch.
"President Jonathan's decision to release the cleanup funds could be life-saving for countless children," said Jane Cohen, health researcher at Human Rights Watch. "After years of living in contaminated homes, children will now be able to live and play without risking their lives."
The lead-affected villages are located in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara, a region where artisanal gold mining is an important source of livelihood. High levels of lead in the rock ore, combined with traditional, labor-intensive mining practices have caused widespread lead poisoning, especially among children. According to official estimates, more than 400 children have died from lead poisoning in Nigeria, and more than 1,500 have elevated lead levels and are at risk of long-term disability and death.