Studies

Ahwaz’ strategic importance in the global mining economy

Ahwaz is in third place in terms of mineral reserves and fifth in terms of mineral production in Iran. The Ahwaz region, with about 763 types of minerals (Khuzestan 300Abu Shahr 239 and Jamberon 224), holds 18 billion tons of discovered reserves and 25 billion tons of potential reserves, playing a massive role in the global and regional mining economy, more especially since the country’s mineral products represent only  0.6% of Iran’s GDP. At the same time, while Iranian authorities could use this unique economic capacity for the development of Ahwaz, but the regime rejects any development plan for political reasons while promoting a policy of continuing marginalisation and impoverishment of the indigenous Ahwazi population. It is noteworthy that only about 22,782 people in Ahwaz (Khuzestan 18,430 – Abu Shahr 1,352 – Jamberon 3,000) are employed in the mining economy. 

Ahwaz has excellent mineral resources due to its uniquely positioned geographical location (extending over the Arabian Gulf and Bab Al-Salam/Hormuz Strait), making it one of the best regions in the Middle East in terms of meeting needs for some units of mineral raw materials. Official reports indicate that investing in the extraction of Ahwaz’ mineral resources is part of all Iranian governments’ policy, as a number of companies have been established to promote and export Ahwazi products within Iran (although Iran’s regime will not recognise the name Ahwaz, preferring to use the Farsi ‘Khuzestan’) and in other countries. Ahwazi researchers believe that the Iranian regime has deliberately neglected the welfare of the Ahwazi people in its focus on the region’s mineral wealth, which has led to widespread unemployment; this is not only morally wrong, but also foolish in failing to harness the skills of an expert workforce who understand how best to optimise the region’s resources better than any other. 

The range of mineral resources in Ahwaz is wide and varied, including building materials such as gypsum, lime, carcass stone, clay, cement raw materials, sand, various types of rocks and marble, as well as claystone, phosphates, bitumen, silica, limestone, which is rich in dolomite and salt; all these and many more varieties are available and active in Ahwaz. In recent years, minerals such as potassium, magnesium and even lithium have been extracted from coastal salt waters in order to develop the mineral industry in the region.

Most of Ahwaz’ mineral reserves are located in North Ahwaz (Khuzestan), where 300 minerals can be found, of which 200 are active, and 100 are inactive, with more than 80% of these related to construction materials. Deputy Mining Department of the Organisation of Industries and Mines in Khuzestan Bakhtiyar Ramani said recently: “Only 150 active mines in Ahwaz provide 10 billion riyals ($3 million) annually to the province,” stressing that “the annual production of minerals in the province is 12 million tons.” He added: “This quantity of minerals has been extracted from 150 active mines in the cities of Salehiyah, Ramez, Qunietra and Arjan.” He also noted that most of the minerals produced in Ahwaz include raw materials such as cement, lime, building materials, carcass stone, gypsum and sand.”

The celestine minerals found in Ahwaz are among the best in all of Iran. Celestine is used in extracting strontium. Most of the Celestine’s minerals in Ahwaz are located in the southeast of Khuzestan at Arjan (Behbahan) and around the city of Jes (Gachsaran). Director-General of Mines and Metals of Khuzestan, Muslim Bayat, said: “Last year, 3,521,146 tons of minerals were extracted from the province’s active mines,” adding that “1,052 tons of Celestine mineral, valued at $71,536, were exported from Abolfars Tartab mine in Ramez to Germany.”

The minerals of bitumen formation in Ahwaz are also among the best in all of Iran. These could play a significant role in the local economy by creating job opportunities in some Ahwazi areas. Most of the bitumen-forming minerals are found around Jes (Gachsaran), Arjan, Ramez (Ramhormuz), and Masjed Sulieman in eastern Khuzestan (north Ahwaz). It should be noted that, after Kermanshah, Lorestan and Elam province, the bitumen minerals found in Ahwaz are among the best of their kind in Iran, with Ahwaz able to supply large quantities of bitumen to Iraq and the Arab Gulf states if the opportunity were available; due to the Iranian regime’s policy of neglecting the Ahwazi economy, however, many mineral extraction operations have been shut down with large numbers of workers enduring unemployment as a result. The limestone minerals in Ahwaz, particularly near the Arabian Gulf, are again among the best in this category across Iran and even the region.

Phosphate minerals in Ahwaz play an important role in creating job opportunities and economic diversification. There are two important deposits in Ahwaz with great phosphate potential. One of them is ‘White Mountain Phosphate’, which is found 40 km from the city of Orwa (Baghmalak). The reserves of this deposit are approximately 17 million tons. Another source is the Arjan deposit, which contains 15 million tons of reserves. 

Shahram Shariati, a member of the Board of Directors of the Iranian Geological Society, said recently: “Phosphate mineral are one of the most valuable and important minerals in the world, and they are used in industries such as food and beverage, agriculture, military and cosmetic industries,” noting that “Iran could also take steps to exploit and use these minerals in various industries by extracting and processing these minerals.” 

Ahwaz is also rich in salt minerals, with three main types of mineral salt in the Ahwaz region: sea salt, mountain salt and lake salt. Speaking about the region’s salt resources, the CEO of the Water and Soil Company, Abdul-Reza Harmati, said: “Khuzestan produces 60% of the industrial salt in Iran,” revealing: “1,800 hectares of the lake were created in Falahiyeh in order to produce about one million tons of industrial salt annually.” He noted that salt is used for food and industry, pointing out that “60% of global industrial salt is used in the petrochemical industry, 30% in the pharmaceutical and food industries, and 10% in other sources.”

Sodium sulfate in Khafajiya also plays an important role in reviving the economy of the Missan district in Ahwaz. Iranian studies have shown that sodium sulfate can be of economic value for Ahwaz. The deposits of this mineral in Missan are located between the Mashdakh Mountains and the heights of ‘Allah Akbar’. Ahwaz possesses large reserves of cement raw materials, including limestone and marl, with Arjan, Karoon, Hejan Al-Saba (Haftkel) and Masjed Sulieman being the largest cement producers in all of Iran. These minerals can also be used for industrial purposes to extract magnesium in places with suitable composition.

According to Iran’s own studies, rock minerals in Ahwaz are among the best of their kind in the whole of Iran for creating construction and industrial rocks. For example, Sayed Jari (Aghajari) sandstones are used in construction activities due to their high compressive strength. Khuzestan also ranks first in Iran in terms of its sand mines such as Ramez and Khalafiyeh. Sand mines in north Ahwaz (Khuzestan) are divided into two categories: Mountain sands River sands. A statistical study of the mines operating in Iran showed that sand minerals account for about a quarter of the country’s active mines, with their number in all of Iran is over 1,170 minerals. However, Ahwaz has the best quality of sand minerals among Iranian provinces. 

The facade stone and Gypsum minerals found in Ahwaz are also among the best of their kind in Iran, coming second only after Isfahan. One of the locations for stones used in facades in Ahwaz is around the city of Susa. Gypsum minerals can also be found in Gachsaran. There is no doubt that working in the extraction of lime minerals could also be a good source of income for some Ahwazi citizens, as these are widely used for construction and industrial purposes.

Speaking about this issue in an interview last year, Abdul-Rahman Naserian, the Deputy Head of Economy and Trade of the Khuzestan Industry, Mining and Trade Organisation, noted that “the mineral wealth in Ahwaz plays an important role in developing the local economy,” revealing that “92% of the province’s exports in the first six months of this year (2020) were in the field of petrochemicals, industry, mining and metals.” Abdul-Rahman Naserian further revealed that Ahwaz’s total exports during one six-month period weighed a substantial 425,000 tons with a value of around $1.5 billion, adding: “Of this quantity, 5,039,000 tons belong to groups (petrochemical, industrial, and mineral).” 

There is no doubt that Ahwaz, which includes the largest oil reserves, the largest rivers and the widest plains in Iran and in much of the wider region, is Iran’s most resource-rich province in Iran; this mineral wealth in Ahwaz can also play a central and vital role in the Ahwaz region’s economy through export of the Ahwazi mineral resources to the surrounding countries of the region and to the wider world.

Regarding the value of these goods, the head of the Bushehr Mining Affairs Department Rashid Moradi said recently: “About 12 million tons of minerals have been extracted in this province,” emphasising that “about five million tons of minerals were exported from gypsum, cement and clinker, the most important of which were petrochemical products (including butane, ethylene and sulfur) and industrial and mineral commodities with a value of $128 million to other countries.” Moradi added: “The number of valid mining licenses in the province is for 239 mines, of which 140 are active.”

South Ahwaz (Hormozgan), with 224 active mines and 110 million tons of proven reserves of mixed mountain rock, gypsum, stone, iron ore, and limestone, plays an important role in revitalising the Ahwazi economy. Iranian reports indicate that the minerals in south Ahwaz (Hormozgan) have created job opportunities for more than 2,000 people in the cities of Jamberon (Bandar Abbas), Bastak, Lanja and Jomir (Khamir). 

Conclusion

Ahwaz is located in a region where neighbouring countries such as Iraq and the Arab Gulf states need mineral resources due to economic growth and development. In those nations, however, the available minerals are insufficient to feed this rapid economic growth. There is no doubt that some of these countries have invested in industries, such as steel, but their raw materials are imported. The great expense of transporting these materials for vast distances means that neighbouring Ahwaz would be an excellent, affordable and high-quality source to meet these rapidly developing nations’ needs.  

There can be no doubt that the geopolitical situation in Ahwaz plays a crucial role in revitalising the mineral extraction economy and the wider economy. Although the region already offers proximity to open water, low transportation costs, proximity to transportation routes, and etc, all of which are among the advantages sought by those requiring mineral resources, according to specialists in this field, the current situation means that only a fraction of the useful resources are being properly used. With a professional, knowledgeable and highly skilled local workforce, including many experts in this field, the costs of extracting minerals from Ahwazi mines and transporting them to neighbouring countries could be even more competitive than at present. Attracting more investors to invest in Ahwazi mines will increase job opportunities and economic prosperity in Ahwaz, boosting development in this field to bring the region up to the level of the affluent countries in the region which are without many of Ahwaz’ natural resources, including a bounteous fresh water supply, much of which is currently being diverted to other areas by an environmentally ruinous regime river-damming and diversion program. Proper development and investment in the field of mineral extraction could not only be beneficial to the investors, but would make Ahwaz among the top 20 countries in the world in terms of mineral wealth.

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