When I read this New York Times article concerning the finding of mineral deposits in Afghanistan, my response was really?? To me, there is little good that can come of this discovery.

Firstly, while the discovery of mineral deposits in Afghanistan is wonderful for the Afghan economy, what percentage of the profits from mining will actually go toward the local economy? The Pentagon has already created a task force charged with creating a development plan for mining the minerals, and international firms are already lining up to take advantage of this new resource.  How much of the profits will actually stay in Afghanistan and go toward fostering local, sustainable community growth? In my opinion, judging from the history of international interests in national resources, the answer is not much.  The article discussed the fears of the Pentagon that nations such as China will step in to dominate the control and sale of these minerals.  But concerns over the impact on the actual people of Afghanistan was not mentioned, nor was the affect on the environment.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly from an environmental perspective, is the potential for destruction of Afghan land.  There is no way to mine anything without causing harm to the surrounding environment.  Stripping the land of any kind of resource removes the balance that is needed to keep an ecosystem functioning.  The mining of minerals for use in the international gadget market (where minerals like lithium, which powers our electronics like laptops and smart phones so often end up.  According to the Pentagon, this new find could make Afghanistan the “Saudi Arabia of lithium.”) strips the land of its nutrients, flora, and fauna in order to feed the international need for technology.  Also, the fact that the government will be acquiring the rights to the land mean that the people currently on the land will be forced to give it up — including any kind of farm or livelihood they were cultivating on that land.

Paul Brinkley is quoted in the article as saying ‘…can this be developed in a responsible way, in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible?’ This is an excellent question, and should be the focal point of the discussion around the creation of these mines.  Is there a way to mine in an environmentally friendly way? My instinct is to say there is not, but perhaps we have enough technology and understanding of both ecological destruction and ecological regrowth that we (and by we, I mean a collaboration between the US sharing its knowledge and technology with the Afghanistan government so that they can create a solution) can find a way to mine responsively.

In addition to my reservations about the missue of land, the structuring of an economy around one resource, whatever that resource is, is not a sustainable method of production.  What happens with the minerals run out –when the land is stripped of minerals and nutrients needed to grow food and the profits dry up? What becomes of the communities displaced by the mining itself (as they will inevitably be) and then dependent on the mines for jobs and income?

While I support the diversification of the Afghan economy to include an export other than opium, I have concerns about the repercussions of creating international interest in mines.  The jump from international interest to colonial interest is not far, and from colonial interest to environmental devastation not much farther beyond that.

Check out Patrick’s article about the find from a peace and security point of view!