By Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo have faulted the ongoing efforts by various stakeholders in the mining sector towards curtailing the acute lead poisoning which has killed over 400 children in Zamfara and Niger states,
The Vice President, while declaring open in Abuja recently, the second International conference on lead poisoning, associated with artisanal gold mining in Nigeria, said regrettably, five years after the Zamfara outbreak, another outbreak of severe lead poisoning was recorded in April 2015 in two villages in Niger state.
According to him, “As with the outbreaks in Zamfara State, this new outbreak was precipitated by environmental lead contamination from artisanal gold mining activities, nearly 30 children died from severe lead complications and many more were poisoned.”
The VP, said: “We must start by admitting that the current efforts in tackling lead poising in artisanal gold mining have not been adequate, what better evidence do we have for that than the fact that the Niger State outbreak happened 5 years after we though we have contained that problem.
“Indications of recontamination in previously remediated sites in Zamfara compel us to rethink and refocus our commitment and strategy to protecting our vulnerable children and coimmunuteus at large.”
He added,Â “I am aware that the first international conference on lead poisoning was a joint effort of the Federal Ministry of Health and Medecins San Frontieres and that was held here in Abuja in May 2012.
“The 2012 conference covered technical aspects, environmental management and the treatment of poisoned children. But todayâ€™s event has been organised by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development in collaboration with Medecins San Frontieres, and it would provide a platform for key national, regional and international stakeholders to come together to develop a multi-sectoral disciplinary and pragmatic national strategy for forestalling future outbreak of lead poison associated with artisanal gold mining, and to prevent the recontamination of previously remediated sites.”
He explained that, while the federal government has pursued a National Gold Purchase Scheme as well as the development of a National Gold Policy, “gold mining in Nigeria has been heard repeatedly is currently dominated by artisanal miners using rudimentary mining methods and crude processing techniques.
“The obvious consequence is the exposure of miners, environment and local communities to serious dangers in areas where gold ore contain high concentration of heavy metals like lead, exposure to the dust released by these methods lead to serious health consequences to the person directly involved in the mining, and also for all the neigbouring areas. Children, of course are the ones most at risk of death and disability.
“Many will recall the outbreak of lead poisoning that occurred in Zamfara State and that has also been repeated many times today, in 2010 as a result of the processing of lead-rich gold ore by artisanal gold miners in residential compounds and village squares.”
Osinbajo, observed that, “Studies carried out in the affected village at that time showed that more than seventeen thousand people were severely exposed and an estimated four hundred to five hundred children lost their lives due to acute lead poisoning.
“The combined efforts from various international agencies including the Mediceins san frontiers, the US centere for disease Control and prevention, the WHO, the Telegraphics international foundation, government of Zamfara State and the Federal Government helped to bring that tragic episode under control.”
Continuing, he said: “I am informed that this is the largest group of children under-5 years of age with severe intoxication anywhere. Unfortunately, treatment does not reverse the debilitating effects of lead poisoning it only accelerates the rates at which the body expels the lead in other to prevents further damage or death, so that the thousands of children who did not die of lead poisoning in Zamfara and Niger State, may therefore has to live with cognitive and other deformities.