Mapping Afghanistan’s Untapped Natural Resources | Infographic News
Deep underground in one of the world’s poorest countries lie at least $ 1 trillion in untapped mineral resources, according to a report released by the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. [PDF]. This South Asian country of 38 million people is estimated to hold more than 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.3 billion tons of marble and 1.4 million tons of rare earth minerals. .
According to Scott Montgomery, a geologist who has studied the extent of Afghanistan’s resources, the country needs a minimum of seven to 10 years to develop large-scale mining in order to become a major source of income.
Lack of security, weak legislation and corruption have hampered the development of the mining sector.
What is hiding under the ground?
During the 1960s and 1970s, the USSR and its Eastern European allies conducted extensive surveys of the country’s geological resources. However, decades of war have meant that most of the resources have remained buried.
In 2010, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and Afghanistan Geological Survey (AGS) conducted the most comprehensive geological survey in the country, identifying 24 Specific Areas of Interest (AOI) in the 34 Afghan provinces.
Areas of interest are color coded on the map below. They include: precious metal reserves (green), building material reserves (yellow), industrial mineral reserves (purple), and oil and gas zones (red).
Iron is Afghanistan’s most abundant precious metal. The total iron ore reserve is estimated at 2.2 billion metric tons, placing Afghanistan among the top 10 countries for extractable iron.
The Hajigak mine located in the mountainous province of Bamyan, 130 km (80 miles) west of Kabul, has the largest iron ore deposit in the region with 1.7 billion tonnes of high-grade ore at 63-69 percent iron.
To put this in context, 2.2 billion tonnes of iron ore could be used to build at least 200,000 replicas of Paris’ Eiffel Tower – the iconic monument that rises to 324 m (1,063 feet) and was built from 7,300 tons of iron in 1889.
The country is also estimated to have 183 million tonnes of aluminum deposits located mainly in Badakhshan and Kandahar provinces. Light metal is the second most used metal in the world, behind iron.
Afghanistan also holds approximately 2,698 kg of gold deposits along two main gold belts: Badakhshan in the southwest to Takhar and Ghazni in the southwest to Zabul. This quantity of gold can mint at least 300,000 gold pieces each weighing eight grams.
Afghanistan is the eighth most mountainous country in the world, making many areas difficult to access. The Hindu Kush Himalayas extend across the northeastern landlocked country and contain various minerals and stones, including marble, limestone, and sandstone, which are widely used in construction.
Marble is a versatile rock commonly used in architecture and sculpture. The country produces an astonishing 1.3 billion tons of beautiful building stone that is enough marble to build 13,000 Washington monuments – measuring 169 m (555 feet) high and 17 m (55 feet) wide. The province of Nangarhar which borders Pakistan is known for its pink onyx marble which is among the most sought after in the region.
Limestone and sandstone are common types of sedimentary rocks widely used in construction. Limestone is an essential component of cement and is a major ingredient in household products such as toothpaste and paint.
It is estimated that Afghanistan has at least 500 million tonnes of limestone found mainly in the provinces of Badakhshan, Herat and Baghlan.
Afghanistan was historically one of the world’s primary sources of lapis lazuli, emeralds and rubies. Most of the gemstones are found in the northeast of the country.
Afghanistan has around 1.4 million tonnes of rare earth minerals, including lithium (used in batteries), uranium (used for nuclear fuel) and many more. One of the largest deposits of rare earth minerals is found at Khanneshin in Helmand province.
The country also has around 152 million tonnes of barite, a colorless mineral commonly used by the oil and gas industry in drilling.
Exports and business partners
According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), Afghanistan’s total exports in 2019 reached $ 2.24 billion.
The first three categories were:
- Precious metals, gemstones and jewelry: 45% ($ 1 billion)
- Fruits and nuts, citrus peels: 24% ($ 538 million)
- Vegetables, certain roots and tubers: 8% ($ 177 million)
In 2019, Afghanistan exported over 90% of its products to just three countries – 45% to the United Arab Emirates, followed by 24% to neighboring Pakistan and 22% to India.
Since the Taliban took control of the country on August 15, 2021, Western states have severely restricted their aid payments to the country.
On September 2, the Taliban said the group would rely primarily on funding from China, which already holds several long-term mining leases across the country.