Africa News: Aid organizations warn of lead poisoning

The “worst outbreak of lead poisoning in modern history” has killed at least 400 children over the past two years in northern Nigeria’s Zamfara state, according to Human Rights Watch.

The rights group says 3,500 children need to be treated for the disease immediately but less that half are receiving the medicine. Adults in the Zamfara region suffer high rates of infertility and miscarriages.

Artisanal gold mining is the cause of the outbreak, according to HRW. In mineral rich Zamfara, parents crush ore to extract gold with old-fashioned tools, sending dust into the air. The dust is contaminated with lead, and poisons children working at the site, or gets on the clothes and skin of their parents. Lead also contaminates food and water sources.

Human Rights Watch says the Nigerian government should facilitate safer mining practices, and test and treat the children in afflicted areas.

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Meanwhile aid organizations Oxfam and Save the Children are calling for a new approach to international drought response, calling it a “systematic failure.”

In a joint report, the organizations say the international response to the 2011 famine in the Horn of Africa was too late, and sometimes poorly executed. The report says thousands of the 50,000 to 100,000 people who died could have been saved.

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“This crisis unfolded despite having been predicted,” reads the report. “Although brought on by drought, it was human factors that turned this crisis into a deadly emergency.”

Officials knew that a food crisis was looming in the region as early as the summer of 2010, but real action was not taken until the media began broadcasting death and disease in the Horn of Africa around the globe.

Early warning systems have predicted another food crisis this year that could impact 10 million people in West Africa. Rocco Blume, an Oxfam policy adviser told Voice of America:

"Right now in West Africa there are warnings that this year there will be a food crisis. Across the countries of Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, there are very low food stocks, high food prices. And the implication of this is that right now the international community needs to be providing funding and support to prevent this from becoming a dire food emergency."

More from GlobalPost: Niger News: Food crisis looms

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