51 imagesIn 2008, as the price of gold began skyrocketing on global markets, a cluster of several villages in rural Zamfara, northwest Nigeria, turned into the centre of a dangerous, uncontrollable gold rush. The villagers’ dreams of wealth soon became real-life nightmares, as mining activities unleashed what Human Rights Watch once defined “the worst lead poisoning epidemic in modern history”. Since the beginning of 2010, around 460 children under-five have died, while more than 5,000 have been contaminated by lethal levels of toxic lead, released from the stones being crushed to extract the precious metal. An entire generation is slowly being wiped out: those who survive will experience incurable, long-term deficiencies such as blindness, hearing impairment and brain damage. Artisanal mining has contaminated dozens of villages, together with water wells, fields, livestock and homes. Despite the efforts of foreign NGOs such as Medicines Sans Frontiers, Zamfara is now facing a deadly catch-22 situation: being the only profitable activity in the area, miners can't stop digging; but to feed their families they are destroying their own future, and that of their children.