Illegal gold mining has altered the lives of nearly 2,000 children who are facing the effects of lead poisoning in several northern Nigerian villages.
The 2,000 children under five have shown signs of lead levels in the blood far exceeding international standards due to exposure to lead-rich gold ore, with some areas yet to be cleaned up despite repeated warnings.
They live in villages in Zamfara state where lethal levels of lead poisoning were reported in 2010 due to illegal gold mining.
"There are 2,000 children suffering from lead poisoning in eight lead-contaminated villages yet to be remediated," said Nasiru Tsafe, deputy coordinator of Zamfara state's rapid response team.
"These children are exposed to more danger by their constant exposure to lead and delay in treatment."
Jane Cohen, a researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch who visited the area recently, said the situation was worse than anticipated with "a large number of children exposed to high lead contamination well above the WHO (World Health Organisation) accepted limit."
Most of the victims are from Bagega village, a 9,000-strong farming and herding community where all 1,500 children suffer from lead poisoning.
"Bagega provides the worst challenge because it is more than the size of all the other seven villages combined and all the over 1,500 children in the village suffer from lead poisoning," Cohen said.
The short-term effects of lead poisoning include acute fever, convulsions, loss of consciousness and blindness, with anaemia, renal failure and brain damage among the long-term effects.
"The immediate thing to be done is remediation because there is no point treating a lead-poisoned child who goes back to a contaminated environment where he is exposed to the same contamination," Tsafe said.