There are places in the Atacama Desert where no rain has fallen since such records have existed. Stretching from Peru, across southwestern Bolivia and into Chile, the Atacama Desert is an atmospheric phenomenon, as air circulates down from the upper atmosphere after dumping its moisture over the Amazon Rainforest, on the other side of the Andes. The air is cold, for a desert, typically staying between zero and 25 degrees celsius. It’s also dry; and as it blows down across the Andes Mountains into the Pacific Ocean it siphons up any moisture from the ground. Yes, even air gets thirsty.
In its trail, the evaporated moisture deposits some of the world’s largest salt flats, helping provide economic support to the surprising population found scattered across the fringes of the desert – more than a million people. They have learned how to survive under such harsh conditions, and recently one of their own, Evo Morales, was elected to Bolivia’s presidency. A proudly leftist ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Morales is poised to make many of the same mistakes.
Morales has already nationalized Bolivia’s natural gas industry, to the shock of its neighbor and largest customer, Brazil. But the world is quickly fixating on another natural resource, one found beneath the salt flats of Morales’ ancestral home:
In the rush to build the next generation of hybrid or electric cars, a sobering fact confronts both automakers and governments seeking to lower their reliance on foreign oil: almost half of the world’s lithium, the mineral needed to power the vehicles, is found here in Bolivia — a country that may not be willing to surrender it so easily.
“We know that Bolivia can become the Saudi Arabia of lithium,” said Francisco Quisbert, 64, the leader of Frutcas, a group of salt gatherers and quinoa farmers on the edge of Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. “We are poor, but we are not stupid peasants. The lithium may be Bolivia’s, but it is also our property.” Read more from The New York Times….
Quisbert is quite right about property; he and the rest of Frutcas’ members live on land passed down since before rain records were kept, and can likely count on one hand how many times it’s rained since they themselves were born. Most of Bolivia’s estimated 5.4 million tons of lithium