June 17, 2010 — More than 160 children have died of lead poisoning in Nigeria in recent weeks, and more deaths are expected to follow.
The number has been rising since March, when rural residents started digging illegally for gold in areas with high concentrations of lead.
The victims were from several remote villages in the northern state of Zamfara.
Marcel Lagenbach, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres emergency response team in Zamfara, told Al Jazeera there are six villages in the state that have been affected.
"Possibly there are some more villages that are contaminated, a lot of work remains to be done in terms of investigation, it is still a state of emergency," he said.
"People cannot be blamed for sustaining their families in such remote and poor villages. We cannot blame people for seeking an income in such areas."
But families from Zamfara say they will continue to mine for gold despite lead in the dust that is killing their children.
Critics accuse the government officials of turning a blind eye and focusing instead on signing lucrative mining deals with China.
Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege reports on the growing crisis.