A report released by Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines and Petroleum states that one of the world’s poorest countries has at least ট্র 1 trillion in undisclosed mineral resources underground. [PDF]. The South Asian country of 38 million people is estimated to have 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 amount of resources in Afghanistan, the country needs a minimum of seven to ten years to develop large-scale mining to become a major source of revenue.
Weak security, weak laws and corruption have hampered the development of the mining sector.
What’s under the ground?
In the 1960s and 1970s, the USSR and its Eastern European allies conducted extensive surveys of the country’s geological resources. However, decades of war meant that most of the resources were buried.
In 2010, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted the country’s most comprehensive geological survey with the Geological Survey of Afghanistan (AGS), identifying two areas of special interest (AOI) across Afghanistan’s provinces.
Areas of interest are color-coded on the map below. These include: reserves of precious metals (green), reserves of building materials (turmeric), reserves of industrial minerals (purple) and areas with oil and gas (red).
Iron is one of the most valuable metals in Afghanistan. Total iron ore reserves are estimated at 2.2 billion metric tons, placing Afghanistan in the top 10 countries for extractive iron.
The Hajigak mine in the mountainous Bamiyan province, located 1,130 kilometers (130 miles) west of Kabul, has the largest iron ore deposits in the region at 1 ..- 6 billion tons of high-quality ore -6–6 percent iron.
In context, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore could be used to make at least 200,000 replicas of the Eiffel Tower in Paris – the iconic monument 324 m (1,063 ft) and built in 1889 from 7,300 tons of iron.
The country has an estimated 183 million tons of aluminum reserves, mainly in Badakhshan and Kandahar provinces. Lightweight metal is the second most used metal in the world, behind only iron.
Afghanistan holds approximately 2,698 kg of gold reserves with two major gold belts: Badarkhana Takhar in the southwest and Ghazni in the southwest. This amount of gold can weigh at least eight, 000,000,000 pounds of gold.
Afghanistan is the eighth mountainous country in the world, many parts of which are difficult to access. The Hindu Kush Himalayas are spread in the north-east of the landlocked country and contain a variety of minerals and rocks, including marble, limestone and sandstone, which are widely used in construction.
Marble is a versatile rock that is commonly used in architecture and sculpture. The country produces 1.3 billion tons of beautiful building stones, enough marble to build 1,000,000 Washington monuments – 19 meters (555 feet) long and 1 meter (55 feet) wide. The border province of Nangarhar in Pakistan is known for its pink onyx marble which is the most sought after in the region.
Limestone and sandstone are common types of sedimentary rocks that are widely used in construction. Limestone is an essential component of cement and a major component of household products such as toothpaste and paint.
In Afghanistan, it is estimated that at least 50 million tons of limestone are found mainly in the provinces of Badakhshan, Herat and Baghlan.
Afghanistan was historically one of the main sources of lapis lazuli, emerald and ruby. Most of the gemstones are found in the northeast of the country.
Afghanistan has an estimated 1.4 million tons of rare earth minerals, including lithium (used in batteries), uranium (used for nuclear fuel) and many more. The largest deposits of rare earth minerals can be found in Khanneshin, Helmand Province.
The country has an estimated 152 million tons of barite, a colorless mineral commonly used for drilling by the oil and gas industry.
Export and trade partners
According to The Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), Afghanistan’s total exports in 2019 reached $ 2.2b billion.
The top three categories were:
- Precious metals, gems and jewelry: 45 percent (1 billion)
- Fruits and nuts, citrus peel: 24 percent ($ 538 million)
- Vegetables, certain roots and tubers: 8 percent (7 177 million)
In 2019, Afghanistan exported more than 100 percent of its products to only three countries – 5 percent to the United Arab Emirates, then 2 percent to neighboring Pakistan, and 22 percent to India.
Since the Taliban took control of the country on August 15, 2021, Western states have severely restricted their aid to the country.
On September 2, the Taliban said the group would rely primarily on funding from China, which has already leased several long-term mines across the country.