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  • Richard Brittan

In Plain Sight

Afghanistan is well endowed with minerals worth at least $1 trillion. These minerals include significant quantities of copper, iron ore, coal, chromite, uranium, zinc, gold, silver, gemstones, lapis lazuli, platinum and a large variety of marble. Under Afghanistan’s Constitution, underground resources belong to the state not to private individuals. However, the Afghan government’s efforts to oversee and regulate the mineral sector are hindered by widespread insecurity and capacity constraints. Many hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of minerals are being extracted in Afghanistan annually, but little mining revenue reaches the state through taxes, royalties or other formal payments.

Most of Afghanistan’s legal and illegal mining activity is taking place in plain view from space, both at the point of mining but also along transport routes to local and national bazaars and across the Afghan border to neighbouring countries. Supported by the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), Alcis recently conducted a preliminary study into the use of satellite imagery to analyse and monitor extractive activities in Afghanistan. This study builds on Alcis’ earlier work on the talc mining value chain in eastern Afghanistan.

This most recent study explored twelve mining locations covering four different minerals (coal, marble, chromite, and salt/lithium) across different areas of the country. The report’s findings and recommendations draw on the reliable observations that can be made from satellite imagery, especially change over time analysis, both at the point of mineral extraction as well as along the mining value chains to export. As well, when data derived from satellite imagery is integrated with other forms of monitoring data, it is clear that the creation of a sophisticated capability for the monitoring of extractive activities across Afghanistan is well within reach.


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