16th June, 2010
People are in grave danger of lead poisoning in parts of rural Nigeria where there are illegal gold mines.
In one village alone, lead poisoning from a communal well has killed more than 60 children.
A foreign nonprofit organisation is starting to train people in the village, hoping to teach them to clean the toxins from their environment.
But there are still many piles of toxic dirt, and poisoned water that kills livestock and other animals.
The dirt itself has levels of lead that are more than 23 times higher than standards in the US would allow.
However, the villagers have trouble believing that the lead in the dirt can kill them.
Because Nigeriaâ€™s seasonal rains are now making it impossible for aid workers to reach the affected villagers, many more may soon die.
Muhammad Bello Dareta, the 60-year-old chief of Dareta village, in Zamfara State, said that he was afraid that if the heavy rains continued, the village would be rendered completely inaccessible.
As a result, the Nigerian government has announced a US$1.6 million plan to clean up the villages, offering people jobs in the process.
But the people the government said it planned to employ, who had already started work, said that the government never gave them any money for the work they were doing.
Unfulfilled government promises are not rare in Nigeria.
The lead poisoning is mainly an issue in the village of Dareta and its five surrounding communities.
The reason why people are digging up gold from the countryside around their communities has to do with the allure of quick profits for the villages, as well as the corruption of the local officials.
Some of the mud-walled homes of Dareta village, where about 2,000 people live, are covered with shiny metal that evidently contains gold.
Although the gold the village mined for itself was usually not contaminated with such large amounts of lead, the situation recently changed for the worse.
Several months ago, children exposed to the ore mined by the villagers, as well as those who were exposed to the toxic ore, began to grow quiet, convulse, and die.
As of now, more than 160 people have died as a result of the contaminated mines.
Hundreds more people face potentially crippling, long-term disabilities as a result of the lead contamination.
With an estimated 26 sites where the leaded ore was broken up by villagers, it will also take a long time to clean up the environment around Dareta.
Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist, said that it would take a long time for his organisation, Environmental Rights Action, to assess the extent of the contamination.
Bassey said that, if it was just the soil that the miners took away, that could be contained and carried away, but that the broken-up ore could take years to clean up entirely.