SANTIAGO, Chile - While many people might think that a desert does not have much to offer a country, the Atacama Desert proves this is certainly not the case.
Northern Chile features the Atacama Desert, which is the driest desert in the world. There are some areas of the desert where rainfall has never been recorded. The desert, while scarcely populated, has been very useful for Chile.
This desert is located in the Northern part of Chile and offers many incredible resources to the country. It is rich with nitrate deposits, especially sodium nitrate, of which Chile has the world’s largest supply.
These deposits are found mainly in the central depression of the desert. Chile had a world monopoly over nitrate until the early part of the 20th century.
Another valuable resource of the desert is its salt fields. The Atacama Desert is home to the world’s third-largest salt field.
Yet, the most revenue in this area comes from the mining of copper. Chile supplies more than 30 percent of the world’s copper.
The desert is also useful for astronomical studies because of its high altitude and distance from air-polluting cities.
There are several observatories here, including two that are operated by the European Southern Observatory. There is also an observatory that operates the strongest telescope in the world available to non-astronomers.
A new telescope called ALMA is now being built in Atacama. The project is being completed by Europe, North America, Chile and Japan. This is only one of many radio astronomy projects currently operating in Chile.
While the desert has proven very valuable to the country, Chile did not always own these resources.
In fact, most of the desert originally belonged to Peru and Bolivia but was lost in the war of the Pacific. The war over the Atacama Desert was fought from 1879 to 1883, and the treaty at the end of the war gave Chile permanent ownership of the whole Pacific coastline.
This was a great win for Chile but a terrible loss for both Peru and Bolivia. This was especially harmful to Bolivia’s economy, as it became landlocked.
Even though the country is rich in many valuable resources, it has had many difficulties with exporting its products since the creation of this treaty. These countries have poor relations even today.
Obviously the Atacama Desert has proven to be a very valuable resource for Chile. It has greatly contributed to the continued success of this nation, making it one of the strongest and wealthiest countries in Latin America.