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The Price of Life

11 July 2013

On April 13th the Toronto Star published an article perfectly titled, "The Price of Gold: Poisoned Children" by Matteo Fagotto It depicts the hell that has descended on several villages in Nigeria, particularly Bagega, after gold mining began there five years ago. Everyone knew there was gold there but it seemed of little importance until the economic crisis hit hard and the price of gold went up.

Without utilizing any safety precautions in the mining process, a blight has descended on the village. The stones that contain the gold also contain lead oxides and carbonates, particles of which would be spread in the dust and inhaled or ingested, to which children would be particularly susceptible.

A twenty-year-old man developed a high fever, started having convulsions and was dead the next morning. In a week, seven children died after having the same symptoms. One little girl became paralyzed and blind in one eye when she was a year and a half old. Her mother has lost six children due to miscarriages and early deaths. Since 2010 about four hundred and sixty children under the age of five have died in Bagega and eight villages around it. Another five thousand have been affected by exposure to the toxins.

By the time medical experts arrived in the area, forty-three per cent of the children under five were dead. The safe level of milligrams of lead per deciliter of blood is five - some of the kids had levels of seven hundred! Though some contaminated soil has been removed from other villages, it hasn't been in Bagega that is as big as seven other villages together. When the funds, put up by the Nigerian government and international donors, ran out in 2011, the work stopped.

The government of Zamfora state decided to ban gold mining but it was a law that was unenforceable. Many miners bring stones home and grind them to search for gold. To them, the choice is to continue mining so they can feed their families knowing it might kill them, or starve.

Of one thing we can be sure, as long as gold prices remain high gold mining will continue, even if it costs the lives of children. This shows two things - capital always wins out and profit is more important than workers' lives in the profit system. This is as damning an indictment of capitalism as one can imagine.

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