Chile: Atacama Desert produces ‘super bloom’ in September
Chile’s Altacama desert has been described as “the world’s backyard” with a series of pictures starkly illustrating the way in which rubbish from across the globe now litters the fragile ecosystem. The region is one of the driest places on the planet, a place where life seems unlikely to thrive.
Lawyer and activist Pauline Silva with some of the discarded clothes
Hundreds of tyres remain on the side of the Panamerican Highway
However, with its huge salt flats, it is also a remarkable and unique environment now blighted by mountains of clothes, cars and tyres.
In one image, lawyer and activist Paulin Silva is shown the midst of a huge pile of discarded clothes, tyres and other junk.
Another shot shows hundreds of dumped and rusting cars, piled on top of one another.
Chile has for years been a dumping secondhand and unsold clothing from Europe, Asia, and the United States, with more than 46,000 tonnes of used clothing ditched there last year.
The material pollutes the soil and are even set alight sometimes.
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Chile: Huge piles of discarded tyres in the Atacama desert
Chile: A vast mountain of clothes in the Atacama desert
Aerial view of hundreds of abandoned cars in Alto Hospicio, in the Atacama Desert
Ms Silva, 34, who has filed a complaint at the Chile’s environmental court in respect of the situation, explained: “The material is highly flammable. The fires are toxic.
Meanwhile Patricio Ferreira, mayor of the desert town of Alto Hospicio, said: “We are no longer just the local backyard, but rather the world’s backyard, which is worse.”
Blaming a “lack of global awareness, a lack of ethical responsibility and environmental protection”, he added: “We feel abandoned. We feel that our land has been sacrificed.”
Carmen Serrano, director of the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Endemic Roots, claimed most people see the Atacama as little more than “bare hills” where they can “extract resources or fill their pockets.”
The 100,000 square kilometre Atacama has been the world’s arid desert for the last eight million years, with rain scarce and in some places, unheard of.
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Chile: Hundreds of vehicles remain at the Los Verdes municipal landfill in the Atacama Desert
Abandoned cars in Alto Hospicio, in the Atacama Desert
Scientists have discovered extreme forms of life, microorganisms adapted to an almost waterless world, in the Yungay district in the city of Antofagasta.
NASA considers the area to be closest thing on Earth to Mars, and tests its robotic vehicles there.
Despite its apparently inhospitable terrain, the Atacama is home to hardy lichens, fungi and algae, as well as dozens of brightly coloured species of wildflower which bloom every five to seven years.
Pablo Guerrero, a researcher at the Institute of Ecology and Biodiversity and an expert in desert cactus, said: “It is an ecosystem that is “very fragile, because any change or decrease in the pattern of precipitation and fog has immediate consequences for the species that live there.
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Abandoned tyres are used as dividing walls at La Negra neighbourhood, 20 km east of Antofagasta
“There are cactus species which are considered extinct” as a result of pollution, climate change, and human settlement.
“Unfortunately, it is something we are seeing on a massive scale, with systematic deterioration in recent years.”
Chile recently signed a total of 32 water scarcity decrees in seven regions in response to the ongoing drought affecting the country.
The decrees offer authorities with various means of reducing the impacts of the drought and gives the General Directorate of Water (DGA) power to establish limits on water extraction for permit holders.
Chile’s mining industry is trying to move towards the use of desalinated water since most of the country’s copper production is mined in arid zones of Antofagasta, as well as O’Higgins, Atacama, Valparaiso and Tarapaca regions.