Nigeria: promised funds must be released to resolve the Zamfara lead poisoning crisis

© Olga Overbeek/MSF-- MSF's Tungan Daji clinic, a child with developmental problems from the long term effects of lead poisoning recovers after having blood drawn .

Zamfara Communique

Abuja, Nigeria, 11 May  2012 – Release of US$ 5.4 million of promised funds to help resolve the lead poisoning crisis in Zamfara state was a key priority of the action plan agreed by an international conference that concluded on Thursday.  

Zamfara state ministers, HRH the Emir of Anka, and representatives of the Nigerian government, as well as national and international aid workers, scientists, and health, environmental and mining experts all endorsed the action plan at the conference, of which Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was the lead organiser.

The delegates expressed disappointment that decision-makers from the Nigerian government – the Ministers of Mines, the Environment and Health – were not present and that the Nigerian federal government did not announce any concrete action.

Promised funds of 850 million naira (US$ 5.4 million) for environmental remediation and safer mining have been languishing for months, while thousands of children continue to suffer from acute lead poisoning. These must be released without further delay to the people of Zamfara.

“There has been plenty of talk, but now is the time for action,” said Ivan Gayton, MSF country representative in Nigeria. “MSF will consider this conference to be a success when all of the poisoned children are living in a safe environment and receiving treatment.”

The action plan addresses the three key pillars necessary to solve the Zamfara crisis – medical care, environmental remediation and safer mining. For the plan to succeed, the Nigerian government, in particular the Ministries of Mines, the Environment, and Health must commit significant resources and coordination at both federal and state level.

The immediate remediation of the village of Bagega is a priority. An estimated 1,500 children have been poisoned since 2010, and the village is still not safe. MSF treats the sickest children at its inpatient facility in Anka hospital, but the medical humanitarian organisation cannot provide effective treatment in locations such as Bagega, because they have not been remediated.

“The people of Bagega are desperate for help,” said Zakaria Mwatia, a nurse and MSF project coordinator in Zamfara. “Some of the villagers are attempting to remediate their own compounds in the hope that MSF will be able to provide treatment.”

“To effectively cut the pathways of lead contamination requires specialised expertise and equipment,” said Simba Tirima, scientist with environmental engineering experts Terragraphics. “The people of Bagega need the urgently required assistance to provide a safe environment for their children.”