What can be the role of local civil society organizations in pushing for greater transparency in Afghanistan’s mining sector? And how can communities affected by the negative social and environmental impacts of mining be better assisted? These were some of the key questions that Timu addressed in a scoping study in Kabul in September – October 2016 for the international development NGO Cordaid.
Based on the country’s ostensibly significant, yet largely unexplored mineral wealth, the Afghan government sees the extractives sector as one of the most important (future) sources of revenue and a key driver of self-reliant, sustainable economic growth. With industrial mines (of iron ore, copper) currently inactive, mining in Afghanistan consists primarily of artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) of not only gemstones but also coal, cement, salt and other commodities. Many of these mines are ‘illegal’ and often controlled by regional power brokers, politicians and armed groups.
As a result of crude extraction methods and poor regulation, the different types of mining in Afghanistan have had significant negative social and environmental impacts on local communities –particularly women– living near the various mine sites. General awareness about health, safety and environmental impacts of mining are low, and with almost no consultation of local communities in how mines are managed or revenues distributed, community benefits remain limited. Nevertheless, (artisanal) mining does provide an importance source of income for many rural communities.
Local community-based groups and national civil society organizations can play a critical role in holding government, power brokers and even armed groups accountable, thereby helping the Afghan mining sector to slowly become more transparent and accountable. However, this will require serious and long-term commitment to community awareness-raising, strengthening of organizational capacities as well as constructive, solution-oriented dialogue between local communities, government officials and private sector companies at provincial and national level.
Mine worker at Gazestan coal mine in Takhar province carrying coal without any mechanical equipment. Source: Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (2015).