The country of Afghanistan is a mountainous one.
And beneath its rocky surface are impressive amounts of diverse natural resources.
In 2017, the vast natural resources in Afghanistan were explored through a partial survey conducted by the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum.
Through the survey, it was discovered that Afghanistan possesses rare, expensive minerals crucial for industrial manufacturing, construction, and economic growth.
The survey found natural resources in abundant amounts. The country sits on a gigantic load of natural resources.
The natural resources in Afghanistan include uranium, gold, fossil fuels, copper, lead, and lithium, amongst others.
From this survey, the partial survey produced an estimate of the country’s mineral wealth at $3 trillion.
Beyond the natural resources mentioned above, many more have been discovered although little has been accurately utilized.
Now that U.S. assistance and interference have been tampered with and international aid has significantly reduced, the possibility for Afghanistan’s sustained and increased economic growth is in its natural resources.
Afghanistan’s non-fuel minerals reserve alone has been estimated at $1trillion. This refers to minerals such as lapis lazuli, emeralds, and rubies which have already been extracted for years.
These minerals are extracted, both legally and illegally, which means that they are not done on large scales or with premium equipment. Some of these local mining activities affect the minerals.
Far more value, however, lies with the country’s endowments of iron, copper, lithium, rare earth elements, cobalt, bauxite, mercury, uranium, and chromium.
The scientific understanding of these resources is still at an exploratory stage. And the already existing understanding of the value of these resources present in the country has not jump-started a new economy.
Scott L. Montgomery, a geologist who has studied these resources estimated that “a minimum of seven to 10 years will be needed for large-scale mining to become a major new source of revenue”.
The main driver of the country’s economy is its natural riches. If Afghanistan’s government makes excellent use of all its natural resources, the nation will boast one of the strongest economies in the world.
However, it is also true that Australia’s economy depends heavily on natural resources.
The groups that were the foremost explorers of the natural resources in Afghanistan were German and British geologists in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Then, Soviet scientists in the 1960s and 1970s did foundational, fundamental, systematic, and comprehensive research upon which subsequent research is based.
Intensive field mapping and numerous samplings, 1000s of meters of borehole drilling, and various lab analyses were performed during the study.
After that, detailed data was compiled and natural resources estimates in 24 definite areas in the country were provided for interested companies willing to bid in order to utilize any of the resources.
However, despite the investment of resources, funds, and time, the country’s natural resources have not been developed till the present. This is due to unresolved contract terms and uncertain security.
The Top 10 Natural Resources in Afghanistan
The top 10 natural resources in Afghanistan as estimated by the country’s mining ministry and the U.S. government include:
- Crude oil
- Natural gas
- Rare earth metals
Afghanistan has a rich supply of extractable metals. World-class iron ore deposits.
And iron is its biggest natural resource. Its reserve is estimated at 2.2 billion metric tonnes.
This has placed it among the top 10 countries with extractable iron. The nation of Afghanistan exports iron primarily to China, Pakistan, and Japan.
The iron ore deposit with the greatest concentration of iron ore is the Haji Gak deposit, Bamiyan Province 130km (80 miles) west of Kabul.
The Hajigak mine has the largest iron ore deposit in the region with 1.7 billion tonnes of high-grade ore at 63-69% iron deposit.
To illustrate the abundance of iron in this mine alone, let’s compare it to the impressive Eiffel Tower of Paris. The tower was constructed from 7,300 tonnes of iron and this mine alone has this much iron ore.
A consistent amount means that at least 200,000 exact replicas of the Eiffel Towers can be constructed from 2.2 billion tonnes of iron ore.
Aluminum is the second most used metal globally and Afghanistan also has it in abundance.
Estimated at a total of 183 million tonnes, aluminum makes it into the top 10 natural resources in Afghanistan.
According to the United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Afghanistan exported US$141,000 worth of aluminum in 2019.
One of Afghanistan’s most important natural resources is gold.
Gold is a yellow-colored metal. An intriguing substance that is one of the rarest elements on the planet.
It is also among the most expensive of the world’s natural resources due to its rarity and unique qualities.
It is peculiar and its quality includes-
it is ductile, aesthetically pleasing, malleable, and a good conductor as well. It has a hefty constitution and weighs 15 times as much as water.
The amount of gold in Afghanistan has been estimated to be about 2,698kg.
This is an opportunity for an economic boom in the country.
However, despite this potential, illegal extraction and export have limited the nation’s profit from its gold reserve.
4. Crude oil
Crude oil is the most profitable among the natural resources in Afghanistan. It is 1.6 billion barrels in reserves.
The discovery of most of the oil fields in Afghanistan happened decades ago in the 1970s. This was during the Soviet-led exploration campaigns except for the Angot oil field that was discovered in 1959.
Since then it has been the major contributor to the national GDP.
According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Mines (Ministry of Mines of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (MoM), the Angot oil field is the only field to have been in sustained production in the whole country.
This leaves many reserves untapped. However, it was shut down in 2006 with an estimated extracted reserve of 6MMbo.
Afghanistan has a wide variety of marble.
From the survey conducted, it was gathered that the country has 1.3 billion tonnes of extractable marble.
6. Natural gas
Natural gas is widely produced in Australia. Natural gas fields can be found throughout the nation.
Most of the oil and gas fields housing natural resources in Afghanistan were discovered in the 1970s.
The government of Afghanistan discovered that there was a thrilling total of 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas buried under it.
These gases which are rich in hydrocarbons are then used for generating electricity and heat and producing fertilizers.
As of 2020, Afghanistan started extracting gas from a newly discovered gas field in northern Jawzjan province. This was the first time in four decades that natural gas is being extracted in Afghanistan.
This project is extracting 150,000 cubic meters of gas from the 1500-meter well.
Limestone is a very important material for building and producing cement.
Its importance continues as long as construction continues.
The 500 million tonnes of limestone discovered dwelling under Afghanistan helped make it among the top 10 natural resources in Afghanistan.
8. Rare Earth Mineral
Afghanistan is rich in rare earth metals with an estimate of 1.4 million tonnes.
Lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, and neodymium are some of the rare earth metals laying in the earth. Praseodymium and Neodymium are the most priced among them – $45,000 per metric ton. Used to make special magnets for electric cars.
Rare earth elements exist in southern Helmand Province.
However, the deposit of rare earth metals in Afghanistan is relatively small compared to how much other countries.
Afghanistan has an impressive amount of barite for a nation.
152 million tonnes of barite were on to be under the earth.
If this natural resource is reasonably managed, it has the potential to develop the economy greatly.
Copper estimate from all the discovered deposits including “undiscovered” resources (identifies but not well explored) sum to an estimated 58.5 million metric tonnes.
But its extraction has been developing nor has this natural resource been fully optimized.
The largest copper deposit in Afghanistan is the Aynak ore body. It is located about 18 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Kabul. The high-grade portion of the total Aynak copper deposit is at an estimate of 11.3 million metric tonnes.
List of all Natural Resources in Afghanistan
The list of natural resources in Afghanistan includes:
- Iron ore
- Arable land
- Petroleum or oil
- Natural gas
- Water resources
- Rare earth elements
- Lapis lazuli
According to many reports, the country of Afghanistan ‘sits’ on a gold mine. It holds natural resources from gold to rare earth metals, copper, lead, lithium, natural gas, crude oil, iron, and numerous others.
Its ample supply of natural resources had made it a territory of great interest to researchers, the U.S. and many other nations, the Taliban, and even exploiters.
One would imagine that these resources mean a parallel economic boom. However, corruption, poor management, war, and illegal mining have robbed the nation of the benefits of such deposits.
This is because, beyond the blessing of an abundance of natural resources, there are other variables that influence their development. Variables such as the market, security, contract terms, infrastructure, and environmental concerns.
Natural Resources in Afghanistan – FAQs
What is Afghanistan's biggest natural resource?
The biggest among the natural resources in Afghanistan is iron. Afghanistan has a rich supply of extractable metals. Among them, iron ores are the most prominent natural resources in Afghanistan, before aluminum. The iron ore reserve of Afghanistan has an estimated 2.2 billion metric tonnes. This placed the country among the top 10 countries with extractable iron.
Does Afghanistan have oil reserves?
Yes, the natural resources in Afghanistan include a vast supply of oil reserves. An oil reserve is the amount of oil in the ground that can be extracted. There are many proven reserves in the country and a number of unexplored basins. In 2011, Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines (Ministry of Mines of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (MoM)) estimated the amount of extractable oil. This included undiscovered resources at 15.7 trillion cubic feet (2.8Bboe) of natural gas, 1.6 billion barrels of oil, and 562 million barrels of natural gas.
Is Afghanistan rich in rare earth metals?
Afghanistan holds about 1.4 million metric tonnes of rare earth metals making it rich in rare earth metals. Lanthanum, cerium, and neodymium are some examples of rare earth metals found in Afghanistan. After the Taliban were driven out in 2004, in 2006, the U.S. conducted aerial surveys over the country which revealed this estimate.
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Precious Okafor is a digital marketer and online entrepreneur that got into the online space in 2017 and since then have developed skills in content creation, copywriting and online marketing. He is also a Green activist and hence his role in publishing articles for EnvironmentGo