More than 400 children under five in the past six months in the northern Nigerian state of Zamfara have been killed by lead poisoning, according to an international humanitarian group on Tuesday.
“Based on record of fatalities from lead poisoning, more than 400 children have died in the last six months,” said El-Shafii Muhammad Ahmad, project director for Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF).
“But we in MSF believe the figure is much more than that,” he told AFP on the phone from Zamfara state.
A lead poisoning epidemic linked to illegal gold mining hit the predominantly Muslim state at the start of the year.
The intoxifications were caused by the illegal extraction of ore by villagers, who would transport crushed rock home from the mines to extract the gold.
The soil containing lead deposits would then be haphazardly disposed of, exposing children to inhalation or ingestion.
Ahmad said reports of 400 deaths “is an under-estimation because many lead-related deaths are never reported and in many cases, these communities attribute them to other factors or deny them altogether.”
He said local communities mainly concealed or denied the fatalities and illnesses from lead poisoning for fear that authorities will ban their mining activities, he added.
Illicit gold mining is more lucrative than agriculture for the impoverished farmers.
A United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report after a two-week study by a four-man team of experts said that lead poisoning was spreading in mining communities in northwestern Zamfara.
The report was released late on Monday.
The study focussed on ground water pollution in the contaminated areas of the state.
Two weeks ago, the UN’s Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in Geneva that more than 200 children were thought to have died in Nigeria out of an estimated 18,000 people affected by lead poisoning from the illicit gold mining.