By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
The Zamfara State Government has denied receiving any financial assistance from the Federal government towards the remediation of localities and rehabilitation of thousands of citizens impacted by the lead poisoning disaster that has ravaged mining areas in the state over the past two years.
The state Commissioner for Environment, Alhaji Muktar Lugga, said this last week at a workshop on Actualising Human Rights through Good Governance in Natural Resources Management, organized by the Global Rights, a non-governemntal organisation, in collaboration with the state ministries of health and environment, in Gusau, Zamfara State.
Lugga stressed that despite the limited support from the Federal government, the state was determined to completely eliminate the dangers involved with mining in the state, adding that the state legislature was in the process of enacting legislation that will prescribe punishment for people who expose children to the dangers of lead poisoning at the mines.
He noted that in spite of promises by the Federal government to “intervene with funds and other support since the outbreak of the disaster, nothing has happened for over two years.”
According to him, “Zamfara state never got any money from the Federal government since this disaster happened. We have heard that money has been approved in principle for many months, but that it is being held back due to bureaucracy in Abuja.
“I repeat that so far, we are yet to get any funding from the Federal government. Whatever funds we have been using in the state to remediate the affected sites and rehabilitate the miners and their families is made available from state budgets as well as support from some international organisations, including the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF),” Lugga said.
He added that, “It is unfortunate that Zamfara state has been in the news for all the wrong reasons; but, we must note that the issue of lead poisoning is relatively new when you consider that mining has been going on in different parts of the state for more than 130 years.
“We understand that we have to educate the local and artisanal miners on safe mining practices, so that their activities do not pose more danger to themselves and to the people around them. We also have to provide them with the tools and equipment they require to do their jobs more effectively and safely for the humans and for the environment.
He added, “I doubt if there is one single compound in any of the villages where lead is processed inside the homes due to our widespread enlightenment efforts. Parents are becoming more aware about the dangers of allowing their children into mining sites, even though it is still a challenge since many claim that is their only means of livelihood.”
Meanwhile, the Zamfara state Ministry of Health has disclosed that over 450 children had died from the lead poisoning incident which broke out in the state, adding that many more are getting re-infected despite efforts to curtail the spread.
Lugga observed that the government was determined to address the poor mining culture which exposes small and artisanal miners to hazards, adding that rehabilitation and community development initiatives have been established by the government.
“Currently, we are undertaking a thorough, state-wide mapping exercise to ascertain the level of spread of lead in both the mining and non-mining communities. We are also engaged in a lot of community development projects including provision of portable drinking water and health centres in the communities,” he stated.
An official of the ministry, Dr. Ahmed Keku, who spoke at the event stressed that a lot of resources had been expended by the state to check the spread of the lead poisoning, even as he noted that efforts are geared towards prevention and cure for children and adults with the poisonous lead in their systems.
Keku noted that the state Ministry of Health was using three strategies, including effective surveillance of the entire state, including mining and non-mining localities, and a state-wide curative and preventive medicine.