Afghanistan may have more than a trillion dollars worth of untapped mineral deposits, a spokesman for the ministry of mines has suggested. The statement came after reports in the New York Times of the work of a team of Pentagon officials and US geologists. They discovered large quantities of iron and copper as well as valuable deposits of lithium. The World’s Laura Lynch reports that being rich in natural resources is not always a direct road to riches for developing nations.
Read the Transcript
This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI’s THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to firstname.lastname@example.org. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI’s THE WORLD is the program audio.
MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman and this is The World. What if one of the world’s poorest countries suddenly came upon a windfall? That may have happened to Afghanistan. The New York Times reported today that the United States has discovered nearly one trillion dollars in mineral reserves in that country. But as The World’s Laura Lynch reports, those reserves could turn out to be more of a curse than a blessing.
LAURA LYNCH: Underneath Afghanistan’s battle scarred earth lies riches; gold, copper, iron and lithium, increasingly important for electric car and laptop batteries. For Saleem Ali it’s cause to cheer. The professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont is from Pakistan, so he knows how much bad news there’s been from his homeland’s next door neighbor.
SALEEM ALI: I think it is indeed good news because there is an opportunity now for the country to develop outside of a dominantly drug dependent economy and if properly managed, the minerals could provide a catalyst for all kinds of other activities as well.
LYNCH: But drug dependency, Ali means farmers’ overwhelming reliance on growing poppies for opium that’s then sold around the world as heroine. The only other steady stream of revenue these days is foreign aid. But for all those who trumpet Afghanistan’s new found mineral wealth there are others, like Blake Hounshell, Managing Editor of Foreign Policy magazine who say not so fast.
BLAKE HOUNSHELL: Everything we know about Afghanistan tells us its one of the most corrupt countries on the planet. The Wall Street Journal reported in January that the Mining Ministry, which would be in charge of these resources, is among the most corrupt departments in a very corrupt government. So I think we already have plenty of evidence that suggests that these resources won’t be properly handled and that’s troubling.
LYNCH: It’s also troubling to those who have worked and lived in other nations where sudden discoveries of oil and minerals didn’t translate into sudden wealth. Keith Slack is a Senior Policy Advisor with Oxfam.
KEITH SLACK: In a lot of situations mineral wealth like this contributes to violent conflict, corruption, it can contribute to human rights violations, displacement of local populations. It can end up actually worsening poverty in some situations.
LYNCH: Slack has seen it up close in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one of the richest countries in the world in terms of mineral wealth.
SLACK: Control over the mineral resources is one of the issues that are driving the conflict. By and large benefits of that huge mineral wealth in that country have not trickled down to the poorest communities.
LYNCH: Slack says the key to ensuring the wealth is shared is transparency; laws and procedures and practices to bar any shady deals. He says the very nations that are now fighting in Afghanistan can help by passing laws back home to force countries to report all transactions with governments like Afghanistan’s. American officials are already said to be concerned that China will rush in. It’s already won one bid to mine copper. And China’s record in Africa suggests it will do business with governments without regard to their commitment to human rights and democracy. But Saleem Ali of the University of Vermont says in this case, China might actually do the United States a favor.
ALI: There’s been a lot of conspiratorial rhetoric about the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and that all of it has been about mineral wealth, but lo and behold, China is the country which gets the tender, so that shows that the U.S. is not all powerful in Afghanistan and this is now an open playing field where you can have multinational investment. And so this should also put to rest some of those conspiracy theories about resource led invasions and so on.
LYNCH: Of course, today’s news doesn’t mean mining companies will be rushing in to dig anytime soon. Developing the industry could take many years and there’s the small matter of a war that’s yet to be resolved. For The World, I’m Laura Lynch in London.
Copyright ©2009 PRI’s THE WORLD. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to PRI’s THE WORLD. This transcript may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission. For further information, please email The World’s Permissions Coordinator at email@example.com.