Salar De Uyuni: Will Lithium Turn Bolivia Into the Next Middle East?

April 10, 2009 / 7 Comments

The landscape of Salar De Uyuni is a breathtaking sight to behold for travelers from all around the world who go through plenty to witness the true splendor of these salt-filled plains. But those reflective plains which mirror the sky and stretch endlessly as photographer’s delight, could very soon turn into the next Middle East of the world- brazen, abrasive, dry and exploited land, not just home of a huge environmental struggle but also the next big political conflict.

salar de uyuni bolivia 2 Salar De Uyuni: Will Lithium Turn Bolivia Into the Next Middle East?

But why is it that the vast and seemingly never-ending landscape hidden away from the world for many centuries, have now become a potential minefield for conflict? Lithium— the element that powers all the green cars, laptops, mobiles and every other fancy gadget you own, is lying in plenty under this surface.

For every automobile maker in the world, there is absolutely no doubt that those who control the supply and production of Lithium, will dictate the economy of the world in the next few decades, And it’s this immense potential hidden under these salt flats that is attracting the world today.

salar de uyuni bolivia 1 Salar De Uyuni: Will Lithium Turn Bolivia Into the Next Middle East?

So what is the problem in digging it up, you ask? After all, this will mean zero-emission vehicles and greener tomorrow. Well, yes and no at the same time. All the Lithium might help us build the greener roads for tomorrow, but it will come at a very heavy price for Bolivia. The slat flats will no doubt be destroyed, mining in the region will suck up the last drop of water and before you know it, this would turn into an over-exploited and useless wasteland. Something no local resident would approve of.

While the local government will no doubt hold off world pressure for a while— as it is unwilling to trade its natural treasure for cash at this point, one is forced to believe this will happen at some point in the future anyway.

Hatred for the West and a respect for the locals means that the Bolivian government is taking an absolute no-nonsense policy from anyone right now and is pretty clear that Salar De Uyuni “belongs to the people of Bolivia and not to the world”. Despite that, it will be interesting to see how long they will sit on the cash pot with growing hunger and unemployment and even if they do.

Some say that using this vast stretch of land and extracting all the speculated 5-9 million tons of Lithium underneath is worth the localized destruction as it will help give cleaner roads and skies to the entire planet. “Small sacrifice for the sake of greater good of environment” the experts say, but we sure hope it’s going to be a choice that will be purely left to Bolivia and the people of Salar De Uyuni.

Source: DailyMail
Images courtesy of tesking (1+2), illuminaut, elisharene, anlopelope and hankoss

  • pn6

    Lithium also has some nasty human health effects, and since bolivia isn’t a wealthy nation, one can expect some ecological shortcuts.

  • Tnomeralc web design toys

    This is beautiful.. really like it…

  • TRU

    That Salar Uyuni salt lake in Bolivia has been described at the “world’s largest lithium resource” and early in 2009 the world press has continued to describe it as such. However, the potential for Uyuni has been greatly overstated given the state of knowledge we have of the resource. Lithium mining is difficult and the processing in the case of Uyuni will be tricky. Further deep drilling exploration is required before we actually can determine its true potential to actually produce lithium carbonate for batteries. At this time our estimate of the lithium resource has a very wide range – true it could be large but it also could turn out to be a minor source of lithium!

    TRU Group Inc – Lithium Consultants.
    April 20, 2009

  • Lithium Six

    All you need to do to give Bolivia back it’s salt flat after mining is slurry everything except the extracted Lithium back and let gravity see to it that it’s perfectly flat again. Frankly, since it all goes back exactly to the way it was and NO tangible life form gets even slightly disturbed (nothing lives there) getting overly wrought is a sign of some sort of mental disorder. Next people will complain about mining on the Moon or asteroids even if they were returned to their original state. “Oh the horrors!” Some people just have issues. . . about everything.

  • XXX

    Okay, because politics have always been so black and white???…are you saying it is just so easy to give Bolivia back its salt flat after they mine and destroy the livelihoods of the many people that rely on the salt flat??? and that the people that actually live in those areas won’t be affected at all?? You are wrong about there being no tangible life form living there… not only do flamingos and birds live there… people live there.

  • XXX

    and not to say that it won’t actually be good for Bolivia. As long as Evo Morales holds up his deal with the people in that region…. schools, electricity, roads.. etc. It could very well be the start of a post-petrol era, and better livelihoods for the people of Bolivia and in rural areas…. possibly the world…in saving our environment. Again, however, it won’t be so black and white as Bolivia will need help from other countries… that is where politics comes in.

  • Dan

    So, all the brine taken from the earth beneath central Michigan for bleach manufacturing destroyed Midland, Bay City, and Saginaw?