According to a recent NPR article, lead poisoning from illegal gold mining has killed more than 400 children in northern Nigeria. Thousands more children have been left sick and mentally stunted.
As the price of gold has risen in recent years, subsistence farmers in Nigeria have increasingly turned to small-scale, illegal ‘artisanal’ gold mining to earn a living. The artisanal miners often use primitive processing techniques, which release significant amounts of toxic lead-laded dust into the environment. Doctors Without Borders called the situation “one of the worst cases of environmental lead poisoning in recent history.”
Because Nigerian artisanal gold miners lack secure rights to the land in which they mine, they have little incentive to invest in their land. Rather than investing in better processing equipment – which would reduce toxic emissions – illegal miners can simply move their operations to a new site, extract as much as they can, then move on.
While Nigeria’s situation poses unique challenges, there are perhaps lessons to be learned from USAID’s Property Rights and Artisanal Diamond Development (PRADD) project in the Central African Republic. The PRADD program has been successful at certifying property rights for artisanal diamond miners, which has created incentives for greater investment and better environmental stewardship in mining areas. By clarifying and formalizing mining rights, the PRADD program has demonstrated success at mitigating the environmental damage caused by mining, while also increasing diamond production and mining incomes. For information on the PRADD program see here.