The world's largest salt desert endangered by lithium

The world’s largest salt desert endangered by lithium

Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the world. However, it enjoys the largest salt desert on the planet. In addition to being a major tourist activity, this desert has a lot of lithium, a rare and widely used food today. Nevertheless, its exploitation is not without consequences for the region.

What is lithium used for?

These salt fields are now used to extract lithium. Many mines have already been set up and the Bolivian government plans to open more. This desert currently contains about 17% of the planet’s lithium, a huge number. However, in the past, oil, hydrocarbons, gas and mining resources have been looted by multinationals such as Total. So as not to repeat the same mistakes, the Bolivian head of state decided to reject offers from foreign private groups. However, why is Bolivia making all these efforts to extract and sell so much lithium?

Today, lithium is of paramount importance in society. Indeed, it is used to create cell phone batteries, computers or other electronic devices. In addition, as the purchase of smartphones is becoming more and more regular, there is no doubt that this metal will become even more valuable in the future. Some scientists even think that this component will be of more interest than oil in the years to come. And when we know that its price has tripled in three years, everything suggests that this will be true. In addition, the popularization of the electric car is at risk further increase the use of lithium. Indeed, a Tesla Model S needs about 63 kg of lithium compounds. However, this is the amount needed to produce 10,000 smartphones. However, even if this lithium represents an excellent economic opportunity for Bolivia, this massive extraction of lithium could have detrimental consequences.

Lithium cell button Credits: cebbi / Pixabay

The downsides

First of all, its extraction requires a great deal of water. Bolivian areas already very arid then become completely drywhich is a problem for the locals. Farmers are the first victims of these droughts. Indeed, the cultivation of quinoa, the main plant in the region, requires a lot of water. In addition, pumping groundwater is at risk to have an impact on the surrounding wildlife. For example, the pink flamingo, an animal very present in these fields, may be threatened by this potential lack of resources.

In addition, this salt desert is now an important tourist activity in the territory. Indeed, 90% of the inhabitants of this region live thanks to this activity. Mining that accelerates on these salt fields can therefore decrease the influx of visitorswhich would be a drama for most locals.

To sum up, this strong presence of lithium represents a good opportunity for the government, but also a great danger for such a famous place. Indeed, a decline in tourism and a depletion of water are feared by most residents. Hoping that this fear does not come true.

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