Monday, August 31, 2015

What's Better For Afghanistan's Future: Buddha Tours Or A Copper Mine?

About an hour's drive south of Kabul, there's a vast Buddhist archaeological site dating back at least 1,500 years. It happens to be sitting on top of one of the biggest untapped copper deposits in the world, potentially worth billions of dollars.
 Nearly a hundred ancient Buddhist shrines like this one have been uncovered by archaeologists at Mes Aynak, south of Kabul.

 The ground at Mes Aynak is so rich in copper that rock and bones — like this skeleton found lying near a Buddhist shrine — are stained greenish-blue.

By the time archaeologists uncovered this statue of the Buddha at Mes Aynak, its head was gone — likely broken off by looters.
Eight years ago, the Afghan government made a deal with a Chinese conglomerate to mine the copper, but mining hasn't begun and likely won't for several more years. The area in which the copper is located, Logar Province, presents challenges in both security and infrastructure: no reliable water or power supply, no railway for transporting copper and increasing threats from the Taliban.
The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that Afghanistan holds $1 trillion in mineral wealth but none of it has ever been developed. This could represent a huge and much-needed source of revenue for a country long dependent on foreign aid. But given other countries' experience with the so-called "resource curse," concerns have been raised over whether Afghanistan's natural resources can or will be exploited responsibly. Part of the concern has centered on whether extracting copper at Mes Aynak must result inevitably in the destruction of a spectacular archaeological site that has been compared to Machu Picchu and Pompeii. Historical riches like this, advocates argue, represent a different kind of wealth and could hold the key to a thriving tourism industry in the future.
Villagers have been hired to help archaeologists with the excavation.


npr

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