Untapped Resource for Development – Sketching Afghanistan’s Mineral Resources

May 12, 2021

Underlying one of the world’s most insidious geopolitical encounters over the last four decades is a homeland of untapped mineral opulence and development aptitude – Afghanistan. In the face of continuous sociopolitical mayhem and armed conflicts, the strong potential for mineral extraction and resource development gets abysmally realized. Therefore, to date, a very small portion of the country’s deposits has been exploited or utilized. In fact, the majority of Afghanistan’s land (about 90%) was not even studied until recently. A series of extensive geological studies by USGS followed the removal of the Taliban in 2001 with the aim to determine the country’s mineral portfolio.

Today Afghanistan is deemed to be sitting on one of the richest mineral troves of the World. The rough estimation of deposit value is somewhere between US$1-3 Trillion. This includes both primary and industrial metals, gemstones, Building Materials, and Hydrocarbons.

Primary Metals

Iron – the country possesses abundant sedimentary and igneous iron and boasts the World Class HajiGak iron ore – the biggest untapped iron ore deposit of Asia. According to USGS, the rough estimation of iron ore deposits is 2.2 billion tons making iron the most abundant mineral resource of Afghanistan.

Gold – the deposits of gold in Afghanistan are estimated to be approximately 2700kg. With two main gold belts, the reserves are located across Badakhshan, West Zabul, and Ghazni provinces.

Copper – is the most substantial non-ferrous metal resource in Afghanistan. According to USGS, the country holds approximately 60 billion metric tons of copper. Copper deposits are considered to contain significant amounts of related metals such as silver and cobalt.

Aluminum – a fair amount of aluminum deposits is available in Zabul and Baghlan Provinces.

Other Primary Metals – significant amounts of lead, zinc, tin, tungsten, and mercury are found in the country. The largest lead/zinc deposit is in Kandahar province while mercury deposits are available in southwestern Afghanistan.

Industrial Metals

Gemstones – Historically being one of the world’s premier sources of gemstones, the country has a lot to offer to the gemstone market from emeralds, rubies, and sapphires to turquoise and lapis. The majority of gemstones come from northeast Afghanistan – Badakhshan, Nuristan, and Konar Provinces.

Rare-Earth Minerals – According to USGS, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, and veins of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury, and lithium are available within the territory of Afghanistan. A large REM deposit is located at Khanashin in southern Afghanistan. In fact, lithium deposits are considered to be on par with Bolivia – the country with the world’s largest known lithium reserves. A number of reports estimate Afghanistan’s rare earth elements to be among the largest on earth.

Talc – The largest deposit of Metamorphic talc is found at Achin, Nangarhar Province. Overall, the Country has a measured resource of 1.25 million metric tons of talc and 31,200 metric tons of magnesite.

Sulfur – The known deposits of Sulphur are in Bakhud and Badakhshan. These two hold approximately 450,000 MTs of sulfur. Probabilistic estimates of significant bedded sulfur deposits in the Afghan-Tajik basin suggest 6 million metric tons of yet undiscovered sulfur.

Chromite – The proven resources of Chromite account for 200,000 metric tons in the Logar Valley, while there is an estimation of 980,000 metric tons countrywide.

Other Industrial Metals: Additional deposits of asbestos, barite, celestite, clay, pegmatite, and potash are available across Afghanistan.

Building Materials

Dimension Stones – Granite, Marble, Limestone, and Sandstone occur in abundance in the Mountains of Afghanistan, especially in the provinces of Badakhshan, Baghlan, and Herat.

Gravel and Sand – the country is rich in sand and gravel resources along with rocks for crushed stone and aggregate.

Hydrocarbon Resources

Afghanistan possesses an extensive amount of hydrocarbon deposits. Two of the largest hydrocarbon basins of the country are the Amu Darya and Afghan-Tajik Basin with over 150 million barrels of oil and more than 4500 billion cubic feet of gas reserves.

Mining as a Driver of Sustainable Growth

Being foreign aid-dependent for years already, Afghanistan’s economy is precarious. Therefore, proper exploitation of mineral deposits could drive the country’s development and sustainable growth. If utilized properly and strategically the abundance of mineral resources could become the best substitute for overseas aid and decrease the country’s clinging to donors. Strong institutions, comprehensive policies, and strategic action plans can help Afghanistan write its own story of success. What’s more, if sustainable economic growth gets achieved, it can form the basis for lasting peace.

High Hurdles for Successful Resource Exploitation

Unsurprisingly, the enormous potential of mineral resource exploitation in Afghanistan comes with a number of high hurdles. E.g., Oftentimes the resources themselves give rise to violent conflicts where disagreements spark in the face of competition. Illegal mining is another problem that is rampant throughout Afghanistan costing the state approximately $300 million yearly. A huge portion of the country’s mineral wealth gets directed to warlords and insurgents exacerbating the issue of national security.

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