Afghanistan’s strategic location is not only of an immense importance but also the tremendous natural resources the country possesses. According to AISA research, there are various types of valuable minerals in Afghanistan that are yet to be unearthed. Afghanistan potential as a rich country in terms of natural resources is of significant to driving the country’s donor dependent economy into a self-sufficient state. Lack of peace, exploitation of minerals by warlords, lack of regulation and infrastructure have not allowed the country to stand on its feet.
In this article, I will be looking at the general mining practices around the world and comparing it with Afghanistan and by the same token explain how the challenges that jeopardizes professional mining in the country.
Lack of detailed Geological and Geographical information of the mining sites
The fact is that Afghanistan has the most complex and varied geology in the world, it is very essential to study and collect enough of information regarding the geology and geography of the mining sites. Unfortunately, Afghanistan remained in war for almost 4 decades, from the foreign invasion to civil wars and it has paralysed the mining sector in terms of collection of geological data, geophysical prospecting which is directly related to the mineral discovery, subsurface geological features usually with economic objectives. Though, in this regard Afghanistan Geological Survey (AGS) is the national custodian of geoscientific information but mining sector needs more detailed information regarding minerals discovery.
The current mining operational practices and extraction of minerals, do not have enough of clues regarding the geology of the sites being mined, the hydrogeology of the area and more possible minerals being disturbed or avoided. The more important is the extraction of minerals indulges the more detailed geological, geographical and hydrogeological knowledge to avoid numerous environmental impacts and hazards which has to be taken in account.
Well defined Topography and Aerial Surveys
A topographic map with contour intervals gives detailed information regarding relief or terrain, the three-dimensional quality of the surface and the identification of the specific landform. Aerial surveys and mapping technologies have been used for over 40 years around the world in terms of assisting mining companies through all phases of a mine’s life, including exploration, resource evaluation, feasibility, mine design, development, operations and site rehabilitation.
From Afghanistan mining perspective, on small scale mining even though in some cases in large scale mining application most often we avoid the importance of Geographical information system (GIS), aerial digital surveys and we lack these foremost important facilities in order to come up with a successful mining practices. It is very essential for the companies working in mining sector to adopt the standard mining operations from start to end.
Selection of Suitable Mining Method
Mining method selection is one of the most critical and crucial part of mining engineering. However, the ultimate goals to select a suitable mining method is to maximum the profit, increase the extraction and recovery of mineral deposits and work on safe environment for the miners with least problems among the feasible alternatives.
The selection of a suitable mining method is a real problematic task that needs consideration of many technical aspects, economic, political and social aspects.
Technical feasibility, ore geometry and ground conditions are the important consideration that has to be taken in account along with low-cost mining operation.
Every ore body has its own unique occurrences with various properties, and engineering judgement in this particular part has a great effect on the decision in such versatile job of mining. In Afghanistan, mostly we have observed the old conventional surface mining methods, where in some cases it contradicts with the mineral deposit or ore body. It is very much important to study, search and adopt the current mining methods that are being used around the world.
Selection of Suitable machinery and Equipment
We have witnessed millions of dollars are being poured into the mining industry but we are failed to equip the mining operations with suitable advanced machinery and equipment. According to the directorate of Policy, MOM, encourages the importation of latest technology, quarrying equipment and machinery that would improve the efficiency, productivity of mining applications but unfortunately yet it is not brought into actions. Lapis lazuli and tourmaline mines of the rugged north-eastern province of Badakhshan are considered to be the richest assets of mining industry in Afghanistan, but due to improper mining and direct rivals in the violent competition between warlords disrupt the mining sites.
If these mines become standardised, formalized and facilitated with suitable equipment and machinery, a mine worker would not carry load of over a 100kg lapis lazuli down the valley. The selection of these machinery and equipment varies in terms of the mineral deposit, method of mining and items of equipment to perform a specified task. Since we have most of the surface mining applications, the selection of equipment to extract and haul mined material, which includes both ore and waste, over the life time of mining pit. With selection of suitable fleet of equipment and their application, not only minimize the capital cost but also minimize the operational costs. Keeping in consideration and classifying the equipment selection process into three main phases, such as type of fleet, size of equipment and calculation of the required numbers.
Lack of Advanced Technology & Software to Create Ore Body Model
The development and advancement of computer technology rapidly increasing day by day and it has made the mining applications very simple and easy. The very important and basic usage of the computerised software in the mining is the reserve estimation, geological modelling, layout evaluation and mine design, financial modelling, selection of equipment and scheduling, geotechnical information and monitoring the overall mining operation. The sad dilemma is that in Afghanistan mining sector most of the mines yet do not have the usage of all these software facilities.
It is important for the government and the Ministry of Mines (MoM) to urge the artisanal and small-scale mining companies to use recent advanced software such as SURPAC, MINEX, OPTIMUM, SURFUR, VULCAN, iGantt and many more. These latest and advanced software should become a part of academic excellence in universities for degree and diploma programs and government ought to arrange such informative seminars and workshops on this. As these integrated computers aided mine planning and design software not only help to increase the deposit-grade recovery but also greatly reduces the cost.
Lack of Mining Experts
Mining is a versatile field, it needs a lot of knowledge and experience to understand. A mining expert and engineer ensure that new processes and advanced technologies are introduced so that current businesses are optimised, update and utilised. This can only be done by innovative ideas to ensure quantum leap in performance and competitiveness. The mining experts and engineers supposed to have scarce and crucial skills. Unfortunately, Afghanistan mining sector has got very less number of such skilful experts. In small scale mining, we have observed contract based labours those who are not mining engineers by profession neither they have earned mining diploma. A mining engineer and expert supposed to ensure the safe and efficient development of mines along with surface and underground mining operations, surrounding environment and technical skills.
As the word ‘processing’ indicates to those methods are being employed in mining industry to clean, separate, and prepare coal, metals, and non-metallic minerals from mines into final marketable products. The processing plants are responsible for the extraction of the pure form of the mineral from the ore body which is later on securely packed and shipped to market and customers for further usage and conversion. This help in getting a first-hand revenue and profit thus mining company has direct connection and approach to market. Bakhund fluorite deposit (BFD) which is situated in Kandahar Province mined by a private mining company, their current production reaches up to 60000mt/year as they claimed to have a mechanised processing plant.
Their production can reach up to double of the current per year production. Most of the small or large scales mines do not have well adequate processing plants where these mineral deposits are sent to neighbouring countries for processing and laboratory purposes which lessen the profit. It is very essential to have these processing plants in host countries rather than the profit is being shared and minimized.
Environmental impacts have a direct relation with mining operations, if it is not carefully looked after it would create a mess that can have some serious hazards to human being, animal and plants. The mining sites which are mined supposed to be reclaimed and planted with trees and other plants in order to make sure soil erosion, land sliding and other disasters. While collecting the information and history, mining sites being mined are left behind without proper reclamation.
Afghanistan environmental law and National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA) stresses out the law to be implemented after area being mined but unfortunately very less of this implantation is observed. The unprofessional way of mining, conventional mining method have brought water level into a record level down, but also contaminated it with various chemicals being used or dumped nearby water reservoirs. The use explosives materials on mine sites could harm the and chemically pollute the air.
As mentioned, the above article gives a bird eye view over mining operational activities. There are few recommendations to mining sector of Afghanistan that the government should take them in account and must insure deciding whether mining is an appropriate land use.
- Before starting operational mining site activities, there should be a detailed feasibility study report, which would include acknowledgment of mining that modifies landscapes and has possible long-term impact on communities and natural resources, site geology, geographical information, operational mining methods and an economic feasibility report.
- There must be surety of socially sensitive or environmentally responsible mining.
- The government and private owned mines must insure the standard mineral processing equipment, i.e. crushing & screening, Grinding & classifying, separation equipment, thickening and dewatering.
- Hire more mining experts and engineers in industry who got skills in various mining software and GIS.
- Ensuring good governance and Mining free of corruption.
*Mohammad Ismail Amin is a mining expert and is based in Kabul. He can be reached at [email protected]