Project overview

GAF AG, together with its partners the Institute for Environmental Security (IES), Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) and the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), is carrying out a contract to use optical and radar remote sensing sensors and interpretation techniques to locate, map and monitor small-scale and artisanal mining (ASM) operations. In many countries, information about ASM is largely incomplete and, as a consequence, ASM activities remain informal and outside of governmental supervision and regulation. Especially in remote, poorly accessible or security sensitive areas, satellite-based remote sensing is the most efficient tool for area-wide mapping and monitoring. Remote area near Kabul In this project, very high resolution optical image data, stereo data and radar-based coherence analysis is being applied and interpreted together with other geo-data such as mining cadastre information. This involves the following information being extracted from earth observation images for monitoring ASM activities:
  • location and description of mining activities (activity maps and disturbed terrain analysis e.g. trenches, pits, stockpiles) and change detection
  • infrastructure (e.g. processing plants, transportation routes) and influx/efflux of population

This information is used to create up-to-date reconnaissance maps and dossiers with a description of current mining activities in order to facilitate the work of in-situ mines inspectors. In-situ mines inspectors
The project covers a range of settings with artisanal mining for coal, gold, gemstones as well as quarries in several selected pilot areas. Cases are selected from GAF's international activities within the mineral resources domain; recent GAF project countries include Guyana, Morocco, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Uganda, Madagascar, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Papua New Guinea. Artisanal or small-scale mining is largely a poverty driven activity and is typically practiced in the poorest and most remote rural areas of countries by a largely itinerant, poorly educated populace with little else available in the way of alternative employment. Today, an estimated 13 million people in about 30 countries across the world are small-scale/artisanal miners, with about 80 - 100 million people depending on such mining for their livelihoods. ASM can be environmentally damaging and often has serious health and safety consequences for workers and surrounding communities. Many of the potential economic benefits of the small-scale mining sector are also lost as a result of poor practice with regard to mining, processing and marketing. The compiling of an inventory is a first step towards regularizing the sector, i.e. the enforcement of health, safety and environmental standards and the collection of royalties. Governments can then also grant operators proper legal title and provide technical, marketing and training support. The project is funded under the European Space Agency (ESA) "Timely Situation Awareness for Law Enforcement and Intelligence Application" contract, which forms part of the Value Added Element (VAE) programme. The purpose of the VAE programme is to support industry in the use of earth observation data. The project started in autumn 2011 and is scheduled to run for 18 months.

In-depth project details

Afghanistan has extensive mineral deposits including but not limited to copper, coal, gold, and gemstones which are often exploited in small scale and artisanal mining (ASM) sites. Until today no comprehensive overview about informal mining activities in terms of the geographic localisation, size of the mining sites and the exploited resources exists. Indeed, tribalism and lack of communication and transport infrastructure make for low governability of the territory and outside Kabul the state with its operational legal apparatus in the modern sense of the word, is virtually absent. Nevertheless, the enforcement of the existing Minerals and Hydrocarbons Law and their corresponding regulations has been pointed as a necessary contribution to Afghanistan's Ministry of Mines (MoM) strategic objectives. In order to achieve this it is of crucial importance to know the exact location of mining activities. With this knowledge the Ministry of Mines can ensure monitoring and inspection of technical, environmental and social compliance of mining operations and can regularise and formalise the existing, informal ASM sector. GAF AG, together with its partners the Institute for Environmental Security, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) and the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC) have been tasked by the European Space Agency (ESA) to provide timely information for the ministry of mines about informal mining in Afghanistan, covering prior defined hot-spot areas within the country. The service will contribute to provide a comprehensive picture of informal mining activities in Afghanistan answering questions such as:
  • Where are the locations of active sites?
  • What activities are performed and what is the duration of activity?
  • Where are transportation routes?

The service uses high to very high resolution imagery (VHR) from optical sensors for the detection of mining sites in certain mining areas. In addition, the mining areas are then analysed to provide detailed information on the activities carried out (mined area, excavation rates, transport routes, etc.). Stereo pairs of optical data are used for estimation of mine tailings volume. The service provision is accompanied by capacity building, including training of Ministry of Mines (MoM) staff concerning appliance and utilisation of the information products and show their constraints, limitations and practical use.