Extraction of Mineral Resources – Basis for a Better Future
Although the coal mine here is the biggest in Turkey, the Turkish government has never raised environmental concerns that are often linked with resource extraction. After serious accidents in the past, mining in Amasra is nowadays carried out in accordance with strict European environmental and health guidelines that ensure that the project has a minimal ecological impact.
"Compared to the mining sector in Afghanistan, mining in Turkey is much more transparent and cleaner. Corruption can’t be seen because revenues are directly transmitted to the Turkish state,” says Skindaray. He is now determined to impose some of his new learnings in Afghanistan and to nudge his government to bring in a mining policy that will force operators to follow international standards and procedures.
Skindaray was one of 19 geologists and engineers working with the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum (MoMP) who underwent intensive two-month training on mining in Turkey. This training was part of a series of educational measures provided by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.
Effective usage of its natural resources is a key to the road to recovery for Afghanistan, bruised by war and fighting for the last three decades. With more than 1,400 mineral fields, Afghanistan is estimated to be sitting on trillions of dollars’ worth of untapped minerals.
Mining would not only be one of the biggest engines of its economic recovery but it would also be one of the biggest job creators in the country.
But for that to happen, the country needs to completely overhaul its mining industry. The current Afghan mining sector still discourages investments instead of attracting them, lacking government regulations and control – a great part of income is misappropriated.
Each year, hundreds of workers lose their lives due to accidents caused by inefficient and dangerous work processes as well as a lack of standard procedures. The environmental damage and related costs are difficult to estimate.
Mohammad Abbas, an engineer at MoMP who participated in the training, says the situation is critical at the coal mines in Dar-e Suf district in the northern Afghan province of Samangan which he visited 3 - 4 months ago: “Because people have started digging an area, and they get coal… but the veins of coals are being hit from every direction, damaging the mines, perhaps irrevocably.”
Abbas says Afghanistan has had no structured system of mining. "Private companies here are making a loot. They will finish things off soon. They make no investments and are damaging ecology for illegitimate profits. Mines require huge investments and are profitable only in the long run, but in Afghanistan, companies want mines to churn profit from day one."
In cooperation with international experts from the German Technical University of Freiburg and the Turkish mining authority, the Istanbul Technical University organised the GIZ training for 20 Afghan mining inspectors in Amasra. It covered technical topics such as construction techniques, data collections and surveying as well as the assessment of mines to their closure, modern technology and software, mining law, administration and economic requirements. In addition to this theoretical part, the participants also went on field trips to inspect several mines. The training in Turkey was the last tranche of a one-year programme.
One attendee of the training, Mr Bostan Ali, highlighted: “In Afghanistan, our mines are not regulated, and our machinery is old and outdated. In Turkey, we saw very big mines and new technologies.” The mining inspectors are now looking forward to putting their newly acquired knowledge into practice in Afghanistan where mining practices are still very poor. For example, they are keen to now use software to access the storage of a mine, analyse the mines and minerals, and to plan extractions.
Hamdard Mirwais, a mine inspector and engineer who took part in the training, says miners in Afghanistan are yet to adapt modern technology. “In Afghanistan, coal mines are extracted from underground, and fortifications are provided by wood, without any assessment. But the best fortification is a Roof Bolt system that we discovered in Turkey. This type of ceiling attachment is not yet used in Afghanistan,” he says. "One mine in Turkey can produce 5,500 tonne of coal every day. We can’t even imagine that in Afghanistan."
The geologists who participated in the GIZ training are aware that it’s still a long journey for Afghanistan's mining industry. Modern technology and equipment, in particular, would require huge investments that may take years to come.
But they are hopeful that the government will initiate the process by implementing a strict mining policy that will prevent loss of resources – both minerals and lives. Though Afghanistan has a mining policy, the industry is effectively unregulated and hundreds die every year in accidents and explosions.
“We want to build up a real mining system in Afghanistan which everyone respects and is committed to,” says Abbas.
Another key issue for Abbas is the closure of mines. In Germany, when a mine is closed, the company has to turn the area into a recreational park or pool or a source of water for farming.
Afghanistan can implement similar rules to protect its environment.The health of the workers is equally important.
“In Turkey, nobody can work inside a mine without the permission of a health manager, and without boots, clothes and glasses,” mentions Skindaray. “In Afghanistan, private companies don’t take care of their workers’ health. So, after this training when we go to mines for inspection, we will take the issue of health seriously and will insist on its implementation. Of course, we will also share our newly-acquired knowledge with our colleagues.”
Afghanistan has a long way to go to make the most of its natural resources. The GIZ training of its geologists in Turkey is an important first step towards that direction.