Afghanistan: between natural resources and poverty – Economy

With the DHL Express postal service, 220 countries can be sent – in fact Afghanistan too. The logistics group had a branch in the country. But now the already hard work is over, of course. The service is “currently discontinued,” he said on the website. This severed one of the few already strong economic ties between Germany and Afghanistan. Because as much of the emphasis was and remains on the country, it has been able to establish itself as a destination for private sector investment or as a sales market over the past 20 years.

“German-Afghan economic relations are at a low level,” said Volker Treier, head of foreign trade at the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In 2020, the trade volume was around 70 million euros. The few goods that were exported to Afghanistan despite sanctions checks included cars and auto parts, machinery and food. Even less came back. Agriculture is still dominated by the illegal cultivation of opium, heroin, and the country’s factories and workshops are too rudimentary to be relevant to Germany.

The country is actually sitting on a huge treasure: lithium and copper, aluminum and gold, coal and cobalt and many other raw materials totaling around one trillion US dollars are found in the Afghan land. , estimate the American geologists who carry out in-depth explorations. “There is breathtaking potential here,” then US Commander-in-Chief David Petraeus said ten years ago. The US military has even said internally that Afghanistan is “Saudi Arabia of lithium”, referring to the fact that oil spurts in Saudi Arabia and is a source of prosperity: lithium is one of the most important and the most sought after. materials for electromobility and battery cells. In a 2019 advertising brochure from the Afghan Ministry of Petroleum and Mines, President Ashraf Ghani, who has now fled, rightly said: Mining is the greatest opportunity to generate economic growth for the country.

Open detailed view

A photo from another time: NATO soldiers visit a coal mine in Herat in the spring of 2019.

(Photo: Hossein Fatemi / dpa)

But the precarious security situation barely allowed the exploitation – which absurdly could change with the withdrawal of Western troops: the efforts of Russia, Turkey and especially China to maintain talks with the Taliban these days – these should not only be based on security interests to do, but also with the prospects of these rich natural resources. The overthrown Afghan government had long sold the rights to operate a large copper mine southeast of Kabul to a Chinese state-owned company for US $ 3 billion.

But so far people haven’t received anything from the contract. Funding has not really started yet, as the Chinese have also found the situation too uncertain so far. This is why Afghanistan is currently one of the poorest countries in the world: according to official figures, one in four employable people was unemployed before the Covid crisis. One in ten newborns die, the highest death rate in the world. The life expectancy of some 38 million people averages 53 years, nowhere else in the world is it lower.

For 20 years, Afghanistan has been on a drip from the international community, which risks distorting gross domestic product by around 20 billion euros. Germany alone had planned to provide 430 million euros in civilian aid this year. Faced with the Taliban’s seizure of power, the development aid ministry has just announced the end of all aid. This concerns several dozen projects also co-financed by the Reconstruction Loan Corporation (KfW). Their budget for Afghanistan is 1.2 billion euros. Loans which were granted to Afghan ministries on a case-by-case basis and which were sometimes also used by German companies when they called for tenders. Or should come.

Siemens Energy signed a letter of intent in 2020. It is now obsolete

For example, Siemens Energy signed a letter of intent with the Afghan government last November to build power grids and power plants. This appointment is now obsolete. The question is how to deal in the medium term with projects that have already started, such as the extension and asphalting of the national road from the city of Kunduz to Khulm for the 39.5 million euros or the construction of the power plant. Faizabad hydropower plant or the renovation of Kabul’s water supply.

German and European companies have often advised their engineers on this matter. Although this job has become more and more difficult in recent years. “The confused security situation in Afghanistan poses particular challenges for local employees,” said one technical service provider, for example. Not all construction sites are easily accessible to international staff. In order to always guarantee complete progress control, this company has relied on remote monitoring by computer. The best results cannot be achieved this way – and mining is certainly not established.

As a donor, KfW has not sent any of its own employees from its headquarters in Frankfurt to Afghanistan for five years. Instead, the two offices in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif relied on local staff. Like all other German companies: “To our knowledge, no German company with German employees is represented on site,” says Treier, director of foreign trade at DIHK. And he says what everyone who has anything to do with Afghanistan says: “Nevertheless, there are Afghan nationals who are employed by German companies and who are still in the country. Try to get them to safety now.

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