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.
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.
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.