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  • Richard Brittan

When salt and water mix

Illegal mining in Afghanistan prevented not by law enforcement but by flooding

Alcis continues to monitor mining activities across Afghanistan, the vast majority of which are illegal. Our recently released preliminary study into the use of satellite imagery to analyse and monitor extractive activities in Afghanistan covers some of this activity. What has recently transpired at one of the mine locations covered in the preliminary study is fascinating.

In early January 2018, the Afghan Government signed a five year contract with a mining company to permit the extraction of 125,000 tons of salt per year at a mine in Ghoryan district, Herat province, in western Afghanistan. The mining concession area is the red polygon shown on the above satellite image, 18 kilometres from the Iranian border. The green polygon shows the area of recent mining activity. Surprisingly, this contract was abruptly cancelled in mid April 2018, less than three months later, on the grounds that lithium and possibly uranium had subsequently been discovered in the area.

Despite the mining contract being cancelled six months previously, analysis from satellite imagery, collected between August and September 2018, shows ongoing mining activity at this mine site. This now illegal mining activity has continued to be extensive, illustrated through the presence of machinery, trucks and the expansion of mining activity over time. That is until recently.

In the absence of any obvious efforts by the Afghan government to prevent this continuing mining activity either at the mine site or along routes used to transport the extracted mineral(s), mining has now stopped at this location. The image above, captured three weeks ago, shows that the mine area is now under water. According to UN OCHA, since the beginning of 2019, more than 163,000 people have now been affected by floods across Afghanistan, with more than 42,000 people displaced. This mine site and the wider environment as well has not been spared by this year’s flooding.

Alcis will continue to monitor this and other mining locations across Afghanistan.

For over 15 years, Alcis has been supporting and collaborating with donors, policy makers, programme implementers and academics to better understand and operate within fragile and complex environments. As technology has evolved over this time, Alcis has continued to innovate a number of technology dependent, collaborative methodologies that have been highly effective at providing robust, data driven, evidence bases for decision making in these environments.


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