Help Afghanistan exploit its riches

Afghanistan is a striking country - but not just because its people are among the poorest in the world, with a crushing child-mortality rate and a largely illiterate population.

The country also boasts a spectacular physical landscape, beneath which lie many natural resources that I have spent much of the past three decades studying.

Except for surface water, Afghanistan is richly endowed. But its resources have been left largely untapped because of the difficulties of terrain, civil war, and warlord greed. Still, these very resources can be used to bring in foreign currency, provide jobs, and rebuild the country. This redevelopment depends on strong security, a stable government, and curtailment of banditry and bribery.

Rebuilding can start most effectively by establishing centers for humanitarian aid. Such secure places would need clean-water wells, a clinic staffed by international doctors, medical supplies, wheat, food staples preferred by the Afghan people, and elementary schools staffed by the many available teachers, including women who were forced out of teaching. New teachers could bring useful knowledge, such as basic hygiene, to children, rather than what has been doled out in religious schools. Such humanitarian efforts would go a long way toward convincing the Afghans that we mean them no harm.

Next could come development of the natural-resource base. Certainly the means to pay the bills could come from what may be the world's largest copper deposit and the third-largest deposit of high-grade iron ore, in addition to reserves of gas, oil, coal, precious stones, underground water, and plentiful limestone to make concrete for bridges and buildings. Resource management means plenty of unskilled and skilled jobs.

Illiterate young Afghan men need work-a-day jobs, not the excitement of being gunmen. Additional help could come from well-educated Afghans who have fled the country in the past 30 years and have expressed a strong desire to help rebuild their native land.

Several American companies have called me in the past two months to find out more about the prospects for post-war mining and hydrocarbon acquisition. I foresee the possibilities of a massive redevelopment of Afghanistan, initially with finances provided by the World Bank, the United Nations, and external investors - later with home-grown funds derived from the sale of certain resources and domestic use of others.

If the United States or the United Nations chose to participate in these efforts, additional humanitarian developments could be ensured because of the interest in foreign investments. From this mixture of developmental actions built upon humanitarian foundations, a new Afghanistan can rise out of the ashes.

John F. Shroder Jr. is Regents Professor of Geography and Geology and a member of the Afghanistan Studies Program at the University of Nebraska.

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