Wednesday, 9 September 2015

URGENT INTERVENTION REQUIRED: Shikira, One Tragedy Too Many


The Call To Action
Shikira, a remote community in Rafi local government area of Niger state, is in the news but for all the wrong reasons. 28 children have died due to lead poisoning; 65 lie critically ill. Global Rights Nigeria, a non-governmental organization spearheading remediation efforts in the area, calls for immediate government intervention!

The Shocking Facts 
  • Over 700 children died of gold mining related lead poisoning in Zamfara State between 2010 and 2012.
  • 28 children died of lead poisoning in Shikira recently; with 65 others lying critically ill.
  • There is no access road to Shikira. A journey that should take 60-90 minutes from the state capital, Minna, takes 6-8 hours of negotiating bush paths, numerous rivers; broken culverts, sinking bridges, slippery hills, dangerous slopes, anxious villagers, nervous Fulani herdsmen, wrecked vehicles and bad roads.
  • There are currently no livestock at Shikira - a predominantly pastoral community, because most of the livestock have died from lead contamination.
  • There are currently no medical personnel at the community’s ill equipped health center and the closest medical facility to the village is about a four-hour drive through non-existent roads. 
  • While the local Center for Disease Control have received training to treat lead poisoning, they are currently not treating.
  • There is no school in Shikira. Most school-age children stay at home.
  • The only treatment center is operated by Medical Doctors from Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International in Zamfara state.
  • Treatment takes months and gulps up to 1 million naira per child.
  • MSF is known to set up in war-torn areas where there is a clear absence of governance. They intend to withdraw from Nigeria though they haven't said when.
  • Some of the effects of lead poisoning are usually permanent and irreversible especially in children.
Putting it in Context
  • Niger State has hosted mining activities since the 18th century: gold, talc, lead etc.
  • As in other extractive host community States, abandoned mines litter some areas of the State and urgently require reclamation.
  • Quite alarming is the unrestricted availability of mercury which artisanal miners recklessly use in the processing of gold.
  • Over 90% of mining activities in Nigeria is unregulated.
  • Artisanal mining in Shakira as in many communities in Niger State has gone on unregulated for many years.
  • The alluvial gold setting in Zamfara State is peculiar - it coexists with a high lead ore content
  • Interestingly, the same gold vein runs from Zamfara, through Kaduna, Niger and Osun. The Federal govt has already been warned about these hotspots.
  • Zamfara incident gave the Fed and State govts an opportunity to preempt disaster and protect mining host communities. They have thus far done little.
  • There has been no substantial intervention by the Govt in the crisis in Niger.
  • Apart from the State govt's sponsorship (Payment for road transport) of 10 most critically ill children to Zamfara for treatment by MSF, nothing else has been done.
  • In May 2015, a rapid response committee comprising of govt agencies, NGOs and international partners was set up at the instance of the Federal Ministry of Health. Regrettably, the committee has failed to implement any of its action plans.
  • Some precarious effects of the lead poisoning outbreak includes the contamination of Shakira’s only water body and the soil nursing the crops on which the community depends on for subsistence.
What is Lead Poisoning?
Lead poisoning occurs when you absorb too much lead by breathing or swallowing a substance with lead in it, such as paint, dust, water, or food. Lead can damage almost every organ system. Children under the age of 6 are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning, which can severely affect mental and physical development. 

What are the Symptoms of Lead Poisoning?
Depending on the severity, some symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Brain damage
  • Multiple organ failure
  • Hearing loss
  • Learning difficulties
  • Loss of developmental skills in children
  • Mental impairment

How is Lead Poisoning Treated?

Lead is treated through a process called Chelation Therapy. Chelation therapy is a chemical process in which a synthetic solution—EDTA, is injected into the bloodstream to remove heavy metals and/or minerals from the body. When EDTA is injected into the veins, it "grabs" heavy metals and minerals such as lead, mercury, copper, iron, arsenic, aluminum, and calcium and removes them from the body. 

How Did Poisoning Occur in Shakira, Zamfara, Others?
  • Residents mine gold nuggets and take them home. 
  • They grind these nuggets within their living quarters thereby spreading lead-laden dust into the atmosphere. 
  • This dust then covers everything in it's path - floors, grass, crops etc. and is inhaled by people within the community.
  • They also wash the nuggets in their community stream thereby contaminating their drinking source.
  • This contamination of living quarters, crops and water accelerates the lead poisoning process.
  • Children, who are more susceptible to lead poisoning, are the first to suffer from the effects of the problem.
What is Remediation?
It's simple - it means to remove the top-soil in the land that is contaminated by lead and replace it with fresh soil from somewhere else.

What Does Global Rights Want from the Government?
Federal:

  • Immediately commence the remediation of Shakira community.
  • Immediately situate a crisis center at Rafi Local Government and dispatch a medical response team to initiate treatment for affected victims.
  • Immediately test all members of the community for lead poisoning 
  • Actively Regulate mining activities and promote artisanal mining cooperatives in Niger state.
  • Provide safer mining equipment such as wet mining machines for artisanal cooperatives.
  • Regulate water sources used for gold processing.
  • Embark on educating mining communities on safer mining practices and regulations.
  • Coordinate with the state government in ending the crisis.

State:

  • Immediately upgrade the medical facility at Shakira community.
  • Immediately provide more water borehole facilities to ensure the supply of portable water to the community.
  • Build an access road leading to the community.
  • Provide alternative livelihoods for the rural communities in Niger state.
  • Cooperate with the Federal Government in arresting further lead poisoning outbreaks in Niger state.

Want To Help?
I need the names and contact details of the Councillor, House of Rep Member and Senator covering Shakira community. Thanks!

Need more info?
Email: preciouse@globalrights.org
www.globalrights.org

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