London (CNN Business)The swift fall of Afghanistan to Taliban fighters has triggered a humanitarian crisis, with thousands trying to flee the country. It's also brought renewed focus on Afghanistan's vast untapped mineral wealth, resources that could transform its economic prospects if ever developed.
Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations in the world. But in 2010, US military officials and geologists revealed that the country, which lies at the crossroads of Central and South Asia, was sitting on mineral deposits worth nearly $1 trillion.
Supplies of minerals such as iron, copper and gold are scattered across provinces. There are also rare earth minerals and, perhaps most importantly, what could be one of the world's biggest deposits of lithium — an essential but scarce component in rechargeable batteries and other technologies vital to tackling the climate crisis.
"Afghanistan is certainly one of the regions richest in traditional precious metals, but also the metals [needed] for the emerging economy of the 21st century," said Rod Schoonover, a scientist and security expert who founded the Ecological Futures Group.
Security challenges, a lack of infrastructure and severe droughts have prevented the extraction of most valuable minerals in the past. That's unlikely to change soon under Taliban control. Still, there's interest from countries including China, Pakistan and India, which may try to engage despite the chaos.
Even before President Joe Biden announced that he...
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