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Afghanistan Sitting on $1 Trillion Mineral Goldmine

Sep 05, 2014 03:21 PM EDT

Afghanistan may be one of the poorest countries in world, but not for long. The country may be sitting on one of the richest trove of minerals in the world, valued at nearly $1 trillion, according to US scientists.

Long ago, the Indian subcontinent experienced a violent collision with Asia, depositing loads of minerals below the surface. In 2004, the US Geological Survey (USGS) began examining what mineral resources Afghanistan had, later conducting magnetic, gravity and hyperspectral surveys over the area.

Based on the findings, Afghanistan may harbor 60 million tons of copper, 2.2 billion tons of iron ore, 1.4 million tons of rare earth elements such as lanthanum, cerium and neodymium, and lots of aluminum, gold, silver, zinc, mercury and lithium.

"Afghanistan is a country that is very, very rich in mineral resources," Jack Medlin, a USGS geologist, told Live Science. "We've identified the potential for at least 24 world-class mineral deposits."

A US task force valued Afghanistan's mineral resources at $908 billion, while the Afghan government's estimate is $3 trillion.

This research has the potential to turn things around for this poor country.

"These resources provide the potential for Afghanistan to develop its economy, to create jobs and build infrastructure, as it goes into the future," Medlin said.

However, this is easier said than done, as operations like creating a mining industry in Afghanistan, for example, holds many challenges. This includes lack of infrastructure and access to roads, energy and water, which are all necessary to build mines.

The USGS plans to help the Afghanistan Geological Survey develop their mineral resources in the coming years.

"The leaders of Afghanistan will have many important decisions to make in the coming years and decades," Marcia McNutt wrote in an editorial in the Aug. 15 issue of the journal Science. "Science has opened the door to a new, more prosperous future. May they use this opportunity wisely."

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