ZAMFARA LEAD POISONING TRAGEDY
It is, indeed, sad that lead ore poisoning occasioned by illegal mining of gold in some communities in Zamfara State has claimed 163 lives out of 355 recorded cases. One hundred and eleven children were among the victims of the avoidable tragedy.
The incident, which occurred in March, this year, also claimed lives of several animals. Considering that most official figures released in cases of this nature are always conservative, the death toll may be between 300 and 500.
About ten women have reportedly lost their pregnancies as a result of the effects of lead poisoning. More fresh cases are still being reported in the affected areas. The Zamfara State government has released the sum of N240 million for the treatment of the affected people. Let the money be actually used in treating those affected.
Government should be ready to tackle the unforeseen health challenges the incident might engender now, and in future. According to the chief epidemiologist of the Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Henry Akpan, the incident occurred when the victims were digging for gold in areas with large concentrations of lead. Many also died after coming in contact with tools, soil and water contaminated with the lethal mineral.
Already, health officials have stopped the illegal mining and evacuated some residents from the affected areas. They have set up two camps for the treatment of people suffering symptoms of lead poisoning. Also, international aid agencies including the World Health Organization (WHO), Doctors Without Borders, and the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention have intervened.
Prior to the incident, the Zamfara State government had engaged a Chinese firm to mine gold in the area. Consequent upon this, the villagers began digging the precious metal themselves, an illegal act in Nigeria.
The avoidable tragedy in Zamfara's gold mining adventure is regrettable. The act that led to the incident is driven by greed and poverty. It is sad that illegal mining was only stopped when it led to the death of many people. Such belated approach to national issues is condemnable.
If the Ministry of Solid Minerals had taken adequate inventory of all mineral deposits in the country and safeguarded them, perhaps the unfortunate incident would have been averted. Due to the negligence of government to protect these sites, many Nigerians have lost their lives. For how long will we continue like this? It is time the concerned ministry begins to map out and safeguard these sites to prevent illegal mining activities that led to the sad event.
The Zamfara incident deserves more attention from the Federal Government.
The government should take a cue from the way the American leader, President Barack Obama, responds to such calamities in his country. Our government should begin to place high premium on life. Information so far on the tragedy is not enough. We enjoin the government to tell the public the whole truth about the incident and the actual figures involved.
The government should also put measures in place to prevent a recurrence. It should ensure that those in the hospitals are well taken care of. There is the need to sanitize the environment where the incident happened to reduce its after effects. Let government conduct environmental assessment of the area. Above all, government should address the growing poverty in the land, which, unarguably, is the remote cause of the tragedy.