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The oases that once interrupted the dusty slopes of the Atacama desert in northern Chile allowed humans and animals to survive for thousands of years in the world’s driest climate.

That was before the mining started.

Sara Plaza, 67 years old, can still remember guiding her family’s sheep along an ancient Inca trail running between wells and pastures. Today she is watching an engine pump fresh water from beneath the mostly dry Tilopozo meadow. “Now mining companies are taking the water,” she says, pointing to dead grass around stone ruins that once provided a nighttime refuge for shepherds.


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