Natural Resources in Central Asia

Natural resources allow a country to grow fast if explored well. Natural resources provide an edge to the country or the region over the others as well. Reason is simple. Natural resources in the world is not in abundance specially oil. Other parts of the world who are less fortunate with one or more natural resources look forward to have good relations and business with ones who are rich with natural resources. But just having natural resources is not enough. The region should be able to explore it either on its own or by outside big players by allowing them to invest in their region. So in this article we are going to touch the natural resources scenario in Central Asian countries. How it is taking them forward at the international level and how these countries are doing well to attract exciting relations with major countries of the world like India and China.

Central Asian countries, the land locked five stans (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan) with no navigable river and very little agricultural land is probably among the most sparsely populated countries on the planet. To put this in proper context the population roughly equal to that of Britain is spread over area 17 times as large. What does this mean? This means that challenge has been huge for Central Asia for decades to grow with speed. But only in recent times the speed has really caught up. Natural resources in the region were there but untapped and unexplored even in Soviet era times. So despite the sparse population and challenging geography the region has stepped up. The reason is that in last decade or so demand in the region has grown up. The fact that five stans countries have got enough of natural resources which were not explored much a decade ago has opened the door for lot of outside investments in the region from Russia, US and China. In recent times we have seen the keen interest of India for good relations with Central Asian countries to grow business between them. Of the five countries Kazakhstan is biggest economy in the region. Kazakhstan has seen rapid growth in recent times because of its natural resources, thanks to booming energy sector.

So what natural resources these countries posses? Well in short, Kazakhstan has roughly 3% of the world’s oil, 4% of the world’s coal, and 15% of the Uranium. Kazakhstan also has the world’s largest reserves of zinc, lead and chromite, and it is in the top ten for supplies of copper, iron ore , gold and manganese. Turkmenistan, another Central Asian country is rich in natural gas with almost 5% of the world’s natural gas with it. Uzbekistan has significant natural gas reserves, about 0.8% of the world’s total and sizeable gold, copper, lead and uranium reserves. What makes other nation interested is that Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan or the other stans are quite less and sparsely populated so consumption within the country of these natural resources is less. So automatically export becomes obvious choice. But to explore these natural resources it requires huge investment and infrastructure building and here comes the giant players from US, China, Russia and other countries. However there is still much more natural resources is yet to be discovered in Central Asia.

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Now it is known to all that since oldest time Central Asia or Silk route has been connecting Europe and Asia for trade. In modern times as well this has not changed as Central Asia’s geographical position allows it connect Asia and Europe. So business becomes all more important for Central Asian countries. However in the absence of good road and rail network it will be difficult to gain the advantage of the geographical positioning. In this context development of road and rail network is quite important. And it is known to all how keen China is to develop Silk road as economic belt keeping its own interests in the development of the region. The new great game theory has kept interested not only China or Russia but also US and now India. All of the big countries want to take some advantage of the region of Central Asia. For natural resources specially oil, big importers like India is looking to import from Kazakhstan that other troubled countries in Asia.

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So given the fact that though Central Asia has reserves of natural resources, it is yet to be a major player in the world. It is happening slowly and also has taken a pace in last few years. With China’s active interest Central Asia has got huge investments and has even bigger proposed investments in the future. From India’s point of View also relation with Central Asian countries is vital as it can reduce its dependence for oil and Uranium on other countries.