Yangalama, Northern Nigeria (CNN)
-- Standing in the graveyard Rabiu Mohammed prays silently in a cemetery that has filled quickly with small tell-tale mounds of earth.
It's hard to imagine as many freshly dug little graves side by side in a place that's not a war zone -- as there are right now in the Nigerian village of Yangalama.
Rabiu lost two children. At least 68 other boys and girls are buried alongside them, or one-third of the village's children.
They began dying in January. For months the cause was a mystery, until local authorities, disturbed by the strange manner of the deaths, called in international medical agencies.
By March it was clear the problem was massive and widespread lead poisoning.
"These are months of fear and trepidation for this village," Rabiu explained.
"You have either lost a child or your brother, or a friend, or someone close to you has lost a child."
So far the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 163 people have died of lead poisoning across the region -- 111 of them children.
Young children, laying in the dust and sleeping on the bags used to carry the metal ore, are the most susceptible.
The CDC is calling the scale of the problem "unprecedented in the CDC's work with lead poisoning worldwide.