Raw material abundance in Afghanistan nothing new

German geologist corrects media reports

The geologist Konstanze Stübner from the TU Bergakademie Freiberg and her Tajik colleague Negmat Rajabov near the Afghan border © TU Freiberg
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It went through almost all media last week: American geologists have discovered new, huge deposits of raw materials in Afghanistan. But a German geologist now makes it clear that, contrary to many reports, there have been no new investigations on site. Instead, the resource wealth of the region has long been known, but the exploitation of deposits economically and politically - still - not worthwhile.

Lothar Ratschbacher, Professor of Regional and Structural Geology at the Institute of Geology of the TU Bergakademie Freiberg in Central Asia, has been researching for over 20 years. He now clarifies what the message about newly discovered occurrences is worth and what's behind it. Ratschbacher had to smile about this message, "because here journalists, military and politicians implement scientific reports in headlines. Firstly, there are no new investigations by American geologists and secondly, no systematic investigations were carried out on site. "

The scientific background was a reassessment of geological material, especially maps from the Soviet Union, which had been systematically geologically explored by Afghanistan, especially in the 1970s. "Incidentally, building on German works, which were carried out, especially in the 1960s, in a more peaceful era in Afghanistan." The now-widespread research comes from the geological service of the United States. In addition, there were newer remote-sensing investigations, which are not meaningful for a valuation of a deposit.

Raw material abundance known for a long time

"That this region is rich in raw materials, has long been known, " said Ratschbacher. Because the geological units of Afghanistan are also found in the countries of Tajikistan, northern Pakistan and western China. These areas are already much better known than Afghanistan.

"My research group has been working since 1993 in the adjacent Pamir Mountains, which is part of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and China, " he says. display

Map of Afghanistan and surrounding areas TU Freiberg

Currently, a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), in which scientists from the Universities of Freiberg, Jena and the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam conduct geological-geophysical-geomorphological investigations on the formation of the Pamir-Tibet Plateau lead. In these weeks, however, is also a second Freiberger group in the Afghan-Tajik basin on the way. This research is funded by the French oil company TOTAL and aims to analyze possible natural gas deposits.

Economic usability crucial

Although the areas of Tajikistan, Pakistan and China have similar geological units as Afghanistan, there is currently no active mining activity there. Active gold and copper mines are located just north of Tien Shan. "Rich deposits are just one aspect. Economic viability and the political situation are different, "the researcher points out. "There are also significant salt lakes on the Tibet Plateau which contain lithium. Only these lakes are at 5, 000 meters altitude. There have been far fewer people there than in the Antarctic. "

China is also slowing down

The reason for this is the unbelievably laborious work of researching, developing and operating these storehouses. Even if there is enough demand from the boom country of China. Ratschbacher cites another example: rich copper and gold deposits, which have already been closely examined, are to be found in southern Tibet, for example, in geological units such as those found in Afghanistan.

But even these are currently not further developed, although the new Lhasa-Golmud railway line connects this room with Western China. To do so, the world market price would have to rise considerably and Chinese policy would change. Because China consciously reserves strategic reserves. And for Afghanistan, the first thing is to build up the infrastructure there, in order to achieve meaningful economic recovery after a long phase of re-exploration and development.

On a stalking position

All these questions add to the political situation. The TOTAL group also knows that it will not make any sense in the medium term to extract natural gas from the Afghan-Tajik basin, as it is problematic to market the supplies. The company therefore only finances an expansion of basic research in order to get data. So that one can react in the case of political-economic changes.

Ratschbacher and his group set out again in the summer of 2010 to work exactly northwest of the gold, iron and copper rich Afghan provinces of Badakhshan and Wachan in the Tajik province of Gorny-Badakshan. "For example, we want to understand processes that lead to the formation of deposits." An expedition to the Afghan province of Wachan is planned for 2011.

(Technical University Bergakademie Freiberg, 21.06.2010 - NPO)