Vast $Trillion Mineral Deposits Discovered in Afghanistan - Mineral Maps - Taliban Maps - Videos

World News: Afghanistan Map with Surrounding Countries source wikimedia

'Trillion dollar' mineral deposits have been discovered in Afghanistan according to US officials. These deposits include vast quantities of iron, copper, and lithium (important to battery technologies). The iron and copper discoveries are so huge, they have the potential of transforming the war-torn nation which, according to the United Nations, has one of the lowest living standards in the world. Preliminary reports suggest that lithium deposits are comparable with the world's largest in Bolivia.

Potential investors will find that removal of these minerals won't be easy, however mining holds great potential for the people of Afghanistan. Competition for these resources will surely include China to the East and India further to the south. China currently operates the 'Aynak' copper mine in the Logar Province; this mine is hampered by a lack of infrastructure (roads, rails and power-plants). The Afghan government hopes to take in $1 billion annually when the Aynak mine goes into production according to the Christian Science Monitor. This single mine, in itself, represents a very substantial revenue source for a war-torn country with a GDP of just around $12 billion. Agriculture represents about 79% of Afghanistan's economy according to the CIA and many sources claim that Poppy cultivation accounts for approximately a quarter of Afghanistan's GDP.

According to the New York Times, the discoveries where actually part of a long progression of findings that started with old maps safeguarded from the Taliban by local geologists after the Soviet occupation in the 1980s. After the American invasion in 2001, the maps where returned to Afghanistan's Geological Survey Library. Armed with these maps, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted a series of aerial fly-over studies using advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment that covered 70% of the country. These promising findings led to an even more advanced aerial study that rendered a 3-D view of the mineral deposits that where later described as "astonishing" by geologists who studied the data around 2007. The study laid dormant until 2009 when a Pentagon business-development task force rediscovered the study. An assessment of Afghanistan's mineral value was released just last December.

The map below, from the USGS published in late 2007, highlights mineral deposits which are scattered throughout the country. Rectangle areas represent "promising mineral areas... recommended for further study" according to the USGS. The map does not contain information on Lithium deposits which are still being developed.

Map Source: USGS, Preliminary Assessment of Non-Fuel Mineral Resources of Afghanistan (2007-10-01). See a larger version of this Mineral map.
Afghanistan Mineral Map, Geological Map of Non-Fuel Mineral Resources, USGS, 2007

James Risen of the NY Times, who originally brought the story to the public's attention, is interviewed on PBS:

Video: Good but brief analysis/overview of challenges and opportunities related to lithium discovery

Video Lithium: Good AP overview

Video Lithium: Correspondent provides descent overview.

Lithium Statistics:

Although no firm numbers are currently available, many estimate that the lithium reserve base in Afghanistan will be at least equal to those now identified in Bolivia. With Bolivia's reserve base approaching half of world reserves, it becomes apparent why those in the tech community have taken notice.

Lithium mine production (2008) and reserves in metric tonnes
Country Production Reserves Reserve base
 Afghanistan 0 Not available Not available
 Argentina 3,200 Not available Not available
 Australia 6,900 170,000 220,000
 Bolivia 0 0 5,400,000
 Brazil 180 190,000 910,000
 Canada 710 180,000 360,000
 Chile 12,000 3,000,000 3,000,000
 People's Republic of China 3,500 540,000 1,100,000
 Portugal 570 Not available Not available
 United States Withheld 38,000 410,000
 Zimbabwe 300 23,000 27,000
World total 27,400 4,100,000 11,000,000

This story is developing...