Nigeria’s Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, on Tuesday advocated a careful and comprehensive national plan with focus on communities and populations vulnerable to lead poisoning, to prevent deaths.
He said this while declaring open the 2nd International Conference on Lead Poisoning associated with Artisanal Gold Mining with special focus on prevention, held in Abuja.
The conference organised by the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development, in association with Doctors without Borders, was aimed at promoting enforcement measures to prevent accidental exposure to poisoning caused by crude mining methods.
“Artisanal mining and the life to enjoy the wealth on it, is possible if we put in place the proper preventive measures and provide the right equipment. No country should have to pay for its economic prosperity and development with the lives and well-being of its people.’’
Osinbajo hailed the organisers and other actors for convening the conference for the critical search of optimum ways of preventing lead poisoning, especially to children.
The Vice President noted that Gold mining in the country is clearly dominated by artisanal miners using rudimentary mining methods and crude processing techniques.
According to him, the obvious consequence is the exposure of miners, the environment and local communities to serious dangers.
“In areas where Gold ores contain high concentrations of heavy metals like lead, exposure to the dust released from these methods as a result of the crude process and techniques leads to serious health consequences. Not just for the persons directly involved in the mining but also for all of the neighbouring areas and communities. Children, of course are the ones most at risk of death and disability,’’ he stated.
Osinbajo recalled the number of deaths from the lead poisoning in Zamfara in 2010 as a result of processing of the element in residential compounds and village squares and a similar incident in Niger in 2015.
He said that survey at the time indicated that no fewer than 17,000 people were severely exposed while some 400 children lost their lives due to acute lead poisoning in Zamfara state.
He noted that a combined effort of various international agencies in collaboration with the state and Federal Government helped to bring the tragic episode under control.
He expressed dismay that in April 2015, another severe outbreak was reported in two villages in Niger state which were precipitated by environmentally-led contamination from artisanal gold mining activities leading to the death of 30 children and poisoning of many.
Osinbajo noted with satisfaction, that the country with its international collaborators as well as local authorities administered treatment on the affected persons.
“To date , 7,200 in Zamfara and Niger states respectively have received treatment. I am informed that this is the largest group of children Under-5 years of age with severe lead intoxication reported anywhere. Unfortunately, treatment does not reverse the debilitating effects of lead poisoning; it only accelerates the rate at which the body expels the lead in order to prevent further death.’’
Osinbajo regretted that many of the affected children might not attain their full potential as productive citizens.
He said the country must start by admitting that “the current efforts to tackle lead poisoning in artisanal Gold mining have not been adequate.’’
He said that the Zamfara and Niger incidents compelled the country to re-think and re-focus its commitment and strategy to protecting the vulnerable children and communities at large.
“As Nigeria traverses the road to shared mining prosperity, we must ensure that we do it in a way that it does not harm our health or our environment,’’ he added.
Osinbajo hailed the convening of the first international conference in May 2012 and the current edition.
He added that the effort would provide opportunities for multi sector inter-disciplinary national strategies to prevent future lead poisoning outbreaks caused by artisanal Gold Mining and prevention of the recontamination of previously remediated sites.