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Geopolitics

France Unearths Forgotten Maps Of Afghanistan’s Natural Resource Riches

Before Afghanistan descended into civil war, a French geologist collected massive data on the country’s mining resources. His findings, recently rediscovered, could unlock huge wealth in the troubled nation. But look who’s already busy exploiting it...

Mountains near Jalalabad in Afghanistan (peretzp)
Mountains near Jalalabad in Afghanistan (peretzp)
Béatrice Pujebet

BEAUVAIS - Afghanistan's many troubles are compounded by the fact that it is the world's largest producer of opium. But it also has vast natural resources beyond its poppy fields, with the United States putting its mining potential at about one trillion dollars and others citing estimates of maybe even three times as much. Cobalt, lithium, copper, oil, gold, rare earth – everything that the world needs to feed its factories is thought to be there.

Yet detailed information about the specific locations of the deposits needed to guide explorations has long been lacking. That, however, may be about to change with the identification of old French missionary maps of the Afghan territory that could unlock the country's still-buried resources.

The maps, yellowed by time, have been housed at the La Salle Institute in Beauvais, France, and contain extensive geological records of Afghanistan's regions. The information was compiled by French geological explorations between 1961 and 1978 led by a renowned geologist Albert de Lapparent, who was also a Catholic priest.

"Abbot de Lapparent was the one who started the explorations," recalls Christian Montenat, the former director of the Albert de Lapparent Geology Institute (IGAL), who spent eight summers in the Afghan mountains between 1971 and 1978.

After being ordained a priest, and having already explored the Sahara, de Lapparent settled on the then little-known country of Afghanistan. On his first trip, he discovered the Hajigak iron deposit in the mountains west of Kabul, an exceptional deposit of more than two billion tons. The discovery opened the doors to Afghan authorities, who facilitated further French geological missions. In1973, a permanent office was opened in Kabul. The Soviet invasion in 1979 stopped everything, and the notebooks, samples, topographic and geological maps all ended up in the IGAL archives.

A treasure trove of knowledge

The friendship between a member of the Emergency Architects Foundation in Paris and a Franco-Afghan citizen resulted in the maps coming back to light. The information gathered during the expeditions constitutes a treasure trove of geological knowledge.

"Everything is still yet to be done in Afghanistan," says Montenat. The invading Russians continued working, and German, Italian and Spanish expeditions would later add to the knowledge base. But Montenat says the information remains very general because the country's political instability render impossible serious ground explorations, which are indispensable to refine data gathered by satellite.

Professor Atiq Sediqi, director of the Afghan geological service, has launched a project to make the most of the rediscovered data. "The maps of the French missions are going to be digitized to create a data base that aggregates knowledge available from other countries," Sediqi says.

Some preliminary technical discussions have also taken place at the French office for geological and mining research (BRGM). "The Afghans need support in creating a real service capable of conducting discussions with mining companies," says Pierre Thierry, the BRGM's director for Asia. Much remains to be done in order for Afghanistan to fully benefit from its riches. Professor Sediqi is well aware of the issues, including environmental concerns, that must be addressed with mining companies.

Perhaps the furthest ahead in exploiting the potential, not surprisingly, are the Chinese. In 2007, the China Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) obtained the concession to extract copper in Aynak, south of Kabul, which is probably the second largest deposit in the world. To acquire the mining rights, MCC put more than $3 billion on the table to build the necessary infrastructure such as railroads and electrical power stations. Worried about security and the lack of reliable data on which to base the costly process of prospecting, European companies – despite calls from the Afghan government – have so far been holding back.

Read the original article in French

Photo - peretzp

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Searching For Marianna, A Pregnant Doctor From Mariupol Held Captive By The Russians

We’ve heard about the plight of the soldiers-turned-prisoners from Mariupol. Here are some traces of the disturbing fate of a young female doctor who’s been taken away.

A paper dove reads "Mariupol" at a shelter for displaced children in Uzhhorod, western Ukraine.

Paweł Smoleński

"Wait for me, because I will return…"

Marianna Mamonova wrote these words to her family, among the text messages and short phone calls that are the only remaining fragments used to piece together her recent past. We also have a photo of her, posted on Russian websites, where she looks into the lens, gaunt and exhausted, signed with a number like a concentration camp prisoner.

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Until the Russian-Ukrainian war, Mamonova’s biography was available to anyone who wanted to know. She was born in 1991, studied at the Ternopil Medical University, and later at the Kyiv Military Academy. After completing her studies, she was sent to work in the coastal city of Berdiansk. Her mother says that this is where her daughter's dream came true: She’d always wanted to be a military doctor, and worked in Berdiansk for three years, receiving the rank of officer in the Ukrainian army.

Beginning in 2014, she’d worked stints as a front-line doctor in the Donbas region, and when Russia invaded Ukraine in February she went to war again. This time in Mariupol.

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