Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What Lies Beneath

A few days ago news came out that nearly $1 trillion worth of untapped mineral resources lies beneath the surface of Afghanistan. The New York Times article gives more detailed facts, but I want to focus on the implications behind this discovery. I happened to first hear the story while driving back from spending the day with Andrew Crosson at Schlitterbahn water park in south Texas. We were listening to NPR at the beginning of the long drive back, and they had a 5 or 6 minute spot about this particular story.

Honestly, the first thing I thought about when I heard this news was not how great it would be for Afghanistan, but how much more oppression, greed, and manipulation would follow. While having that much untapped potential under the surface seems like an incredible blessing, I can’t help but think about the multinationals that are licking their chops, ready to pounce on this already impoverished nation in order to simply gain a larger profit.

This seems like the story of DR Congo and Nigeria all over again. Relatively poor, unstable countries that were found to have huge natural resources which huge multinationals soon began to extract, only to lead to terrible exploitation and poverty for the vast majority of citizens. Hopefully Afghanistan won’t go the same way, but it has the conditions needed for this same tragedy to take place.

For one, it is a nation that in the middle of a war. Politically, its stability teeters on the edge of survivability at the best of times. In the worst, it’s been labelled as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. Then consider its economy. Because of the war, long-term planning that we take for granted in the relatively stable and secure West is not an option for people that are just trying to make it through the winter. As a result, cash crops are by far the easiest and most profitable business for most citizens, and the most lucrative cash crops are the ones that become illegal drugs.

The government is not quite stable, while the economy still searches for profitability in something other than illicit drugs. One would hope that the news of all this new wealth under Afghanistan would lead to a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous future for these people. They have endured a tremendous amount of both internal and external strife in the last few decades, and they certainly deserve a brighter future.

Let’s hope the story of DR Congo and Nigeria (along with numerous others) doesn’t repeat itself in Afghanistan and that, indeed, this is news to celebrate for a people who surely deserve some good news.

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