Lead Poisoning: Zamfara Awaiting FG Intervention

Two years after the Lead poisoning disaster discovered in Zamfara state, the thousands of children affected are still needlessly suffering because the funds promised by the federal government for the treatment  and clean-up of the Lead polluted villages is yet to be released. ABBA ABUBAKAR KABARA writes.

Thousands of children affected by Lead poison in Zamfara are still needlessly suffering as Federal government failed to release the promised N850m ($4.4m) funds meant for treatment and remediation of Lead polluted villages in the state.

Medical and environmental experts like Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without borders), Center for Disease Control (CDC) and many other donor partners have all come to the consensus that Nigerian government, particularly the ministries of mines, environment and health at both Federal and state levels must show more serious commitment to achieve success in curtailing further suffering and child death in Zamfara state.

The International conference held on May 9/10, 2012 in Abuja attended by the MSF, the CDC, the Federal ministry of health and leading medical, environmental and mining experts, have called  for urgent intervention of the president for the immediate release of the funds in order to stop further child deaths in Zamfara state.

Despite the plights by these donor partners, the funds promised by the Federal government, according to the report recently released by the Medicine San Frontiers, ‘have not been released by the Secretary to Government of the Federation’, expressing fears that unless the funds were released to the appropriate agencies, the environmental remediation could not begin.

The report said in the absence of remediation, thousands of vulnerable children are continuously being exposed to the toxins of Lead substance, which means that medical treatment is useless.

The report regrets that more than six months from an International     Lead Poisoning Conference, Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) / Doctors Without Borders warns that time is running out to solve the Zamfara crisis. In the report, the medical humanitarian organisation which has been treating Lead poisoned children since the start of the crisis, contends that very little action has been taken on any of the agreed action points from the Conference.

It further said that the promised funds to tackle the Zamfara Lead poisoning crisis – with a specific focus on the remediation of Bagega village, pledged by the President in May 2012, were still not released by the Secretary to Government of the Federation.

“Bagega is reaching crisis point” confessed Michael White, one of the lead poison control experts, explaining that, “More than two and a half years after the lead poisoning disaster was first discovered, hundreds of children are still awaiting critical medical treatment’, saying that 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,” he added.

Remediation in the most polluted villages, particularly in Bagega, was due to begin at the end of October 2012, specifically after the last rainy season, but that project could not begin due to the inability of the Federal government to release the funds, and this meant that if the process was not started before the end of last year, it would be too late before the next rainy season and this could have disastrous consequences for the community.

MSF, the medical organiation which has been treating victims of Lead poisoning in Zamfara since the outbreak in 2010, believes 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 process.

LEADERSHIP SUNDAY observes that MSF and TerraGraphics have done a lot to address this crisis, but what is desperately needed now is the urgent intervention from the Federal authority as well as all other stakeholders to bring an end to further child deaths and multiple Lead contamination in the affected communities.

MSF said it is ready to resume its treatment services, but this could only be possible if the urgently needed remediation of the polluted communities is completed, otherwise the treatment exercise would be useless.

In a recent chat with LEADERSHIP SUNDAY, the state commissioner of health Alhaji Kabir Muhammed Janyau, also expressed regret over the inability of the Federal government to release the promised funds that could facilitate the process of addressing the lingering scourge of Lead pollution in the state.

‘As far as we know, Zamfara state government has no knowledge about the release of the N850million promised by the Federal government as its contribution to address the problem’, he said, explaining that the state is now almost losing confidence in the hope to access the fund.

Concerned citizens, as well as those who lost their loved ones to the deadly poisonous Lead substance, are still in a dilemma particularly in the imagination of the magnitude of impending deaths and accompanying human and ecological damage that is imminent if the authorities fail to bring urgent intervention to control the situation.

A family head in Bagega, Mallam Sani Armiya’u who lost seven children from his compound, said his community would probably never recover from the traumatic experience still haunting several victims as a result of ‘loss of hundreds of our children within a very short period’, he said. He regretted further that there are several unreported cases of child deaths occurring in many inaccessible areas where it is difficult to monitor or regulate mining and processing activities.

He said there is urgent need for government aggressive intervention to curtail further sufferings in the affected villages as mining activity is still one of the major preoccupations of the inhabitants of several communities in the state.

Recently, the National Environmental Sanitation Regulatory Agency (NESREA) organised a two-day workshop on capacity building programme for sustainable mining practice held in Anka local government, to equip artisanal miners with modern techniques of safe mining.

During the workshop, local miners were exposed to so many implications and numerous damaging consequences inherent in the practice of artisanal mining, which Zamfara is identified as one of the states with highest number of such categories of miners due to its numerous mineral resources.

The geological experts have rated Zamfara as one of the richest in the country in terms of solid mineral deposits and this has attracted miners from all parts of the world for prospecting and mining.

But this trend has according to NESREA, exposed many families to the hazards of Lead pollution and the accompanying grievous damages to both human and the natural environment.

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