Mes Aynak Afghanistan Buddhist
Mining companies plan to extract over $100bn buried under Buddhist city Mes Aynak Shah Marai/AFP

Two state-owned Chinese mining companies are planning to destroy ancient Buddhist city Mes Aynak in Afghanistan, according to a documentary.

In the Netflix film 'Saving Mes Aynak' archaeologists say that they have to excavate the Unesco World Heritage site quickly, "otherwise everything will be destroyed by a Chinese copper mine."

Jiangxi Copper and Metallurgical Group Corporation (MCC) are in the initial stages of building a large copper mine on the site of the 5,000-year-old Bronze Age city located 40km southeast of Kabul. Buddhists built monasteries, homes and market places on top of the ancient settlement.

Mes Aynak is the world's second largest copper deposit, according to the Afghan Ministry of Mines and Petroleum. There is more than $100bn worth of copper buried under the city.

Mes Aynak Afghanistan Buddhist
Mes Aynak dates back 5,000 years Shah Marai/AFP

The documentary reveals how residents living in villages near the city had to leave their homes because of the construction. In the film MCC Vice-President Zhengou Liu said the residents were informed in advance.

Javed Noorani from Integrity Watch Afghanistan denied this claim. "People are worried because they have been displaced without being consulted or their consent sought," he said. He described China's mining plan as "a breach of international standards and laws on archaeology."

Liu said that MCC will outsource some of the work to Afghan companies and provide residents with jobs. Brent Huffman, the documentary's director, said the company has not kept its promise. "The villages have been destroyed. The residents were promised a new village, but it was never built."

He said that the archaeological artefacts removed from the site have been stored at the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul. "The museum is not a safe location. It has already been blown up twice by the Taliban," he said.

Huffman added that the Chinese mining companies have been given the green light by the Afghan Government. "They support mining and believe that it will be a miracle cure for all Afghanistan's woes. Recently the Taliban and President Trump have also declared their support for the mine at Mes Anyak. It is very surreal."

This is not the first time a Unesco World Heritage site in Afghanistan has faced destruction. The Taliban destroyed the famous Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001 on the grounds that the statues were blasphemous.

Bamiyan and Mes Anyak both lie on the Silk Road, an ancient trade route running between China and the Mediterranean Sea. Around 600 large Buddha statues and frescoes depicting the sage's life have so far been unearthed at the 500,000 square metre site. Saving Mes Anyak reports that archaeologists believe future discoveries "have the potential to redefine the history of Afghanistan and the history of Buddhism itself".

Besides the destruction of the historical site, the mining project will also have a terrible impact on the environment, according to Huffman. "There will be an enormous toxic crater where no one can live again. Water reservoirs that store drinking water and flow into Kabul and Pakistan will be permanently polluted," he said.