Latin America eyes the lithium boom, but opposition endures – by Rocío Lloret Céspedes and Javier Lewkowicz (Dialogo – October 26, 2023)


The region could define the global lithium market and is making moves to boost its industries. But lithium extraction’s impacts and water use remain sensitive

Andrea Calcina has lived all of her 58 years in the community of Calcha K, a group of adobe houses at 3,800 metres above sea level in the Bolivian Andes. Though everything seems to be drying up quickly here, Calcina points to a water well that is still providing for residents, if not like it used to.

“There used to be more. With this water we wash, we sow, we water vegetables and quinoa,” says Andrea, who lives in a community of 100 families, where recurring complaints that “it doesn’t rain like it used to” are heard. Calcha K, in the southwestern department of Potosí, is one of 46 communities settled around the Uyuni and Pastos Grandes salt flats, two of the country’s three major lithium reserves. The third, Salar de Coipasa, is found in Oruro, in the west of the country.

This year, the Bolivian government has announced a series of agreements to build lithium industrial complexes in this area: a consortium comprised of the Russian Uranium One Group and Chinese company CITIC Guoan will build plants at Pastos Grandes and Uyuni, while CATL, also from China, will build another plant at Uyuni and in Coipasa.

Public talks over the projects have been held periodically in the nearby areas, organised by state-owed lithium company Yacimientos de Litio Bolivianos (YLB) – a partner in these agreements – as a way of seeking communities’ approval. But some who have attended do not feel these could be classed as a true “consultation”, a right established by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

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