TWO years ago, more than 400 children died in Zamfara State from lead poisoning. The deaths continue as half-hearted measures governments took have warranted more deaths and guaranteed a wrecked future for those who survive.
An international conference, in Abuja, commencing tomorrow, will drum attention to the epidemic. Foreigners are pushing for funds to treat Zamfara children the mass lead poisoning affected.
Though international agencies describe the case as “one of the worst such crises in modern history,” our governments, with their robust health policies, maintain a lethargic posture. They have no plans for thousands of affected children who are ill and in danger of long term disability or death.
It is more baffling that the authorities ignore the illegal gold mining activities that cause the deaths. Doctors Without Borders have tested more than 2,500 children whose blood samples indicated lead poisoning. The number of poisoned children should be higher; some of them do not have access to the test.
Deaths result from lead ore leakage through illegal gold mining pits. Children are more at risk because their systems are not fully developed. They contact the lead by inhaling, eating compromised food, drinking water from poisoned sources or putting hands in their mouths after touching mining equipment. Some older children work in the mines.
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 too. The deaths continue because the illegal mining continues and the villagers do not have alternative water supplies.
Governments’ poor response to its responsibilities to the people is at the centre of this case. No efforts are being made to arrest the illegal miners who carry on without any compunction about the consequences of their criminality.
If government cared, these illegal miners would not get away with their crime. More are joining in the looting of the solid minerals that government has refused to mine, apparently satisfied with its earnings from oil and gas. The attractions for the criminals are lucre and impunity the operations confer.
Responses to these tragedies were token, even insulting. The deaths were enough reasons to go after the illegal miners and prosecute them, but governments have no such interest, nor have they kept promises to clean the environment of lead, an effort that would bear no result since the illegal mining continues.
The shame of the Zamfara tragedy is the ease with which our governments abdicate their responsibilities, even where children, the future, are involved.