Kabwe has no facilities to test for lead poisoning, but people complain of sickness every day

Kabwe is a wasteland full of the remnants of Zambia's once glorious mining past.

Decades of unregulated mining, however, have turned Kabwe into Africa's most toxic town.

Al Jazeera's Yvonne Ndege travelled to Kabwe, about 150km north of the capital, Lusaka, and filed this report.

Abandoned by industry in 1994, former workers still come to Kabwe in search of lead and other metals to sell, to scrape a living.

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Watch Al Jazeera's report on Zambia's toxic town

Alex, a father of four has been working here illegally for years. He thinks he already has lead poisoning and that, eventually, it will kill him.

"It's dangerous," he said. "But its just to help our family to survive."

Mines in Kabwe were built and operated without health and safety concerns or environmental regulation. As a result, Zambia's people are now facing the consequences.

Families in the area have been warned not to drink water from wells in their garden.

The father one family, Chungu Julius, said that residents are forced to ignore the warnings because water is in short supply.

He said his daughter has memory loss - a symptom of lead poisoning.

"You will tell her to do something, just a short time, [but] she forgets," he said.

"[We] send her to the market to buy some food, [but] she will easily forget the type of food you have sent her to buy. This is when we came to know that lead was working in our children".

Root cause

More than 100 people visit Kabwe's main clinic complaining of sickness every day, but the town has no facilities to test for lead poisoning.

Dr Sylvester Chaseta, who works at the Railway Clinic in Kabwe, said: "The worry is that if people are not aware of lead poisoning it means the problem will go unnoticed and that we will see people dying without knowing the major cause.

Alex thinks he already has lead poisoning but
he is forced to work for his family's survival
"We might think it is HIV, malaria or other things and you forget about the root cause of it all."

The people of Kabwe are only now starting to realise the potential impact that lead poisoning might have on their health.

The Zambian government has initiated a poster campaign to alert people to the dangers.

However, environmentalists have said it is not enough.

They have demanded that Anglo American, the former owner of Kabwe's mine, and the Zambian government give financial compensation.
 
Peter Sinkamba, from Citizens for a Better Environment, in Zambia, said: "We need in the tune of $28m to adequately address the problem of Kabwe.

"But what is not correct, not morally correct, is for Anglo to run away from this problem which they created.

"They made their money from Kabwe where there is a huge, huge problem.''

Source: Al Jazeera