Lithium mining extraction in the high Andean salt flats of the Southern Cone is linked to serious socio-environmental problems, which has resulted in processes of mobilization and territorial resistance that are currently under development with a growing level of conflict and dynamism.
It is important to note that the increase in lithium exploration and exploitation projects through the evaporation and decantation method of brines, used in the high Andean salt flats, is explained because to date it is the most economical way to obtain this mineral. This is due to the fact that its exceptional hydrological, geological and climatic conditions, due to extreme aridity and scarce rainfall, allow a higher rate of evaporation of saline waters due to the greater solar radiation. It is for this reason that these territories acquire greater value in the international lithium market where the demand and price of the mineral has increased dramatically, as will be analyzed in the first section of this study, in addition to pointing out its main characteristics, uses and process production.
In the second section, the analysis of the saline basins where there is an important socio-environmental conflict regarding lithium mining will be addressed, which today are the focus of dispute and mining intervention, located in the foothills and mountain ranges of the region of the highlands of the Cono South. Specifically, the cases of the communities of the Atacama salt flats in the Antofagasta Region, in Chile, and the Olaroz-Caucharí and Salinas Grandes salt flats that are located between the provinces of Jujuy and Salta, in Argentina, will be studied. Finally, it will refer to the scientific and institutional considerations on the socio-environmental impacts of lithium mining in the salt flats of Argentina and Chile.
Research and writing: Bárbara Jerez Henríquez
Santiago de Chile - August 2018
Published by OLCA
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