Afghan needs, global priorities, and the treasures of Mes Aynak

Nadia Ahmad

Luke Danielson

Since it assumed power in Kabul in August 2021, the Taliban has faced the formidable task of undertaking the reconstruction and development of a country devastated by decades of war. The new government is attempting to turn a new page, but Western sanctions are suffocating its economy. An agreement to lift the sanctions has been elusive so far.

As the government tries to break its international isolation to receive financial support, it is also considering other sources of revenue, including developing its mineral deposits, some of which may be key for the world’s energy transition. According to a Brookings Institute report, Afghanistan sits on some 2.3 billion metric tonnes of iron ore and 1.4 million metric tonnes of rare earth minerals.

More significantly, the country is estimated to possess some 30 million metric tonnes of copper. In fact, one of the most important copper deposits in the world is located in an area called Mes Aynak in Logar Province.

This resource may not only bring significant funds to the country to help pursue its development goals, but can also help the rest of the world with its struggle against climate change and poverty. Copper is a critical component of advanced renewable energy technologies. There is a growing demand for it, as the world goes through its green energy transformation and tries to meet the seventh UN sustainable development goal – to provide access to affordable and clean energy to all.

Building an electric vehicle requires 2.5 times as much copper as an internal combustion vehicle. Solar farms use two times more copper per megawatt of installed capacity than gas or coal-powered electricity plants; for offshore wind installations, the amount is five times bigger.

At the same time, 733 million people globally are without access to electricity. This means that poor countries, which try to expand their energy production and electric grids, have to compete with rich ones for copper, as growing demand is pushing up the price. Mining Mes Aynak would have a significant global impact, helping meet demand for copper and perhaps lowering the price so poorer countries can better afford it.

In this context, developing the deposits at Mes Aynak is in the interest of the whole world, as well as in the interest of Afghanistan. And there is a way to develop these resources that is acceptable to the Taliban and to the foreign powers, which have imposed sanctions and financial restrictions on the group.

Our organisation, Sustainable Development Strategies Group took a look at the requirements for the development of Mes Aynak a few years ago at the behest of ARCH International, an organisation working to protect world cultural heritage.

The development of this site would be challenging and require the construction of new sources of electricity, transmission systems, transport systems and water supply routes. It would also necessitate setting up processing plants.

The revenues from the project could improve significantly the lives of Afghans. The country would benefit not only from newly built infrastructure, but also from employment opportunities and investment. Community development agreements could be drawn up to allocate funding for schools, hospitals, roads, and other infrastructure for the benefit of nearby communities.

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