Afghanistan minerals map

Science Magazine adapted from USGS

Science has a new piece out on Afghanistan’s mining potential. Read: Mother of all lodes (behind paywall)

According to the article, the US Department of Defence has the country’s mineral wealth tapped at $908 billion. The Afghans prefer the figure of $3 trillion.

That bounty is a product of a tortured tectonic history: Afghanistan is an amalgam of at least four pieces of crust squashed together by the collision of the Indian subcontient with Asia.

When US forces arrived in Kabul in 2004, they were disappointed to learn the Afghan Geological Survey (AGS) had been looted by the Taliban with its windows blown out. They turned to Soviet data, combined with their own airborne surveys to map the country’s mineral wealth. This was especially dangerous in some parts of the country, where the security situation remains precarious 13 years after the US led invasion began.

“You’re not so much worried about whether you will get shot or not, but whether you can get samples in the 20 minutes or so you have on the ground.”

In addition to the security concerns, the country has major infrastructure problems, with little to no available roads, railroads, electricity, energy and water to speak of.

However, that has not stopped the Afghan government from carving off a copper deposit to a Chinese firm, and another iron ore deposit to an Indian group. Last month, the Afghani parliament passed the country’s first mining law.

Science argues that the next hurdle to overcome in the country is the government’s unrealistic expectations. They want up to 50% of any project, which is 10x that of other countries with much better security and infrastructure situations. The Afghani’s must understand that massive capital investment is required and will take decades to bear fruit.

For all their trouble, the AGS has a comfortable new facility in Kabul and are moving forward as best they can.

Mining, believes James Devine of the USGS, “will get Afghanistan out of the 14th century.”

Science 15 August 2014:
Vol. 345 no. 6198 pp. 725-727
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6198.725
Mother of all lodes
by Richard Stone