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Bolivia is a landlocked country in South America surrounded by five neighboring countries: Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay to the southeast, Argentina to the south, Chile to the southwest and west, and Peru to the northwest. The country covers a total area of 1,098,580 km².

Three landscape areas can be distinguished: the eastern lowlands, the eastern slopes of the Andes and the Andes highlands. The Andean highlands (Spanish: Altiplano) lie between the Western and Eastern Cordilleras and are part of the Puna, a highland that stretches from Chile to Argentina. Its basins reach a height of up to 4,000 m above sea level and are framed by mountains that reach 6,542 m, the highest peak in the western cordilleras in the Sajama volcano. The second highest mountain in Bolivia is Illimani (6 460 m) in the vicinity of the country’s seat of government, La Paz in the Eastern Cordilleras. To the east of the Puna is the 300 km long mountain slope of the Andes.

After that a lowland stretches to the borders of Brazil and Paraguay, which reaches in the north to the Amazon basin, in the south to the dry hot bush land of the Gran Chaco. In the north of the country, Bolivia has a share in Lake Titicaca, which is 190 km long and 50 km wide on average (total area: 8,288 km²). This highest navigable lake in the world is 3,812 m above sea level and is the largest lake in South America. It has numerous islands and is up to 281 m deep. Another important lake is the 2 600 km² salty Poopó Lake (also Lago Aullagas) in the south of the country. Bolivia is irrigated by three river systems. The source rivers of the Amazonas and the Paraná rise in the Bolivian highlands on the eastern slope of the Andes, the Rio de la Plata flows in the southeast and the Titicaca Lake water system exists in the Altiplano.

Climate

Bolivia has a tropical climate with largely constant temperatures throughout the year. Only in the Andes highlands do night frosts occur in winter. In the hot eastern lowlands, the strong summer rainfall is particularly noticeable. Rainfall increases from west to east and from south to north. They fluctuate between 50 and 600 mm in the Altiplano and between 500 and 2 000 mm in the lowlands. La Paz has an average annual rainfall of 570 mm. In the dry-hot west, on the other hand, the annual rainfall drops to 250 mm. The average temperature in the capital is 18 °C in January and 10 °C in July.

Flora and Fauna

From the tropical mountain and cloud forests of the jagged valleys at the eastern slope of the Andes (also called Jungas) reaching up to a height of 3 200 m, the vegetation in the northern lowlands changes into ever moist tropical rain forests. With decreasing rainfall, humid savannas, then dry savannas and thorn bush savannas follow to the south. The high basins of the Altiplano are woodless. Tufted grasses, dwarf shrubs and cushion plants cover the lower altitudes of the Cordilleras up to 4,800 m above sea level.

Especially in the Bolivian highlands there are camel species, including llama and alpaca, which are also domesticated. A common rodent in the highlands is the chinchilla. The carrion-eating Andean condor is one of the largest bird species on earth and reaches a wingspan of up to 3.25 metres. Especially in the catchment area of Lake Titicaca there are many smaller bird species as well as water fowl, ducks, geese and seagulls. Lake Poopó, on the other hand, is known for its schools of flamingos.

The rivers of the eastern lowlands, which belong to the Amazon system, have a high fish population. But also numerous frogs, toads and lizards find an ideal habitat here. Countless, partly still unexplored insect species populate the fertile soils. The plains are home to armadillos, anteaters, wild boars, deer and cougars.

The forests in the north are inhabited by South America’s largest cat of prey, the jaguar. Tapirs and the crocodile species of caimans can also be found here. Piranhas live in the rivers. Numerous snake species, including the Boa Constrictor, inhabit the forest regions as do parrots and toucans.

Population

The majority of the 9.34 million Bolivians live in the Andean highlands and on the subtropical eastern slopes of the Andes, 900,000 of whom live in La Paz, the country’s largest city and seat of government. The eastern lowlands, on the other hand, are largely uninhabited except for a few Indian tribes with their own language. The inhabitants of the Altiplano also speak Indian. In the larger cities, on the other hand, only the official national language Spanish is spoken. Capital of the country is the city Sucre, which has about 250 000 inhabitants (agglomeration).

More than half of the population of the South American country are Aymará and Ketschua Indians, who do not play an important role in the country’s political hierarchy. 30% of Bolivians are mestizos, 15% white. According to official statistics, 95% of the population professes Christian (Catholic) faith, with more than 100,000 Indians living in the lowlands mixing Christianity with their own cultural traditions. 7 % belong to other faiths.

The average life expectancy of the Bolivians is 66 years; the population is growing by 1.4% annually. 87% of Bolivians can read and write.

Political System

According to the 2009 constitution, Bolivia is a presidential republic. The head of the government and head of state is the president directly elected for five years (Evo Morales since 2006). He has the power to appoint and dismiss ministers.

The Congress, whose deputies are elected for five years, is the legislative body. The two chambers consist of 36 senators (appointed for five years on the basis of party lists) and 130 deputies of the chamber (68 directly elected by their government districts, 62 proportionally on the basis of party lists).

  • The trade union COB has long played an important role as an extra-parliamentary opposition.
  • The legal system is based on Spain and the Napoleonic Code.
  • The country’s administration is divided into nine regions (Departamentos).

Economy

Bolivia is still a developing country with a per capita income of around USD 2 470 per year, high underemployment and inflation. The poverty of the people (60% live below the poverty line) is offset by a wealth of natural resources (natural gas, hydropower, forests). Bolivia’s economy, however, is heavily dependent on commodity prices due to its high dependence on commodity exports.

Only 12 % of the gross domestic product (GDP) is generated in agriculture, although about 40 % of Bolivians work in agriculture – mostly exclusively for their own needs. Despite a comprehensive land reform in 1953, Bolivian farmers are unable to cover their own needs, so that food must also be imported. In addition, there has been a migration from the Andes to the eastern lowlands for decades.

One problem remains the illegal cultivation of coca, which is a lucrative source of income for many farmers. Bolivia is the third largest producer (after Colombia and Peru). The cultivation of cinchona bark trees, from the bark of which the fever medicine quinine is extracted, is a legal and lucrative alternative in the rainforests and mountain forests. Bananas, soybeans, citrus fruits, sugar cane, cocoa, coffee and tea are also cultivated. In addition to the cultivation of crops, livestock breeding is an important economic factor. Bolivia’s main animal, the llama, is used as a transport animal, but at the same time it supplies wool, leather and meat. Vikunja and alpaca are also important livestock. In the Mojos plain cattle breeding is of great importance, the southern plains (Spanish: chacos) serve as pastureland.

The underdeveloped industry contributes about 34% to the gross domestic product. Their most important pillar was once mining. However, the decline in raw material prices and the increasing depletion of raw material sources have greatly reduced its importance. However, the extraction of energy raw materials (especially natural gas) is becoming increasingly important. The food and textile industries as well as metal processing are the most important industries in the country. The main trading partners are the South American neighbouring states as well as China, the USA and Japan. International airports are located in La Paz and Santa Cruz, while the free port in Rosario, Argentina, provides Bolivia with access to the Atlantic. The currency is Boliviano (= 100 Centavos).