The Gran Chaco or Dry Chaco is a sparsely populated and semiarid lowland natural region of the Río de la Plata basin, divided among eastern Bolivia, western Paraguay, northern Argentina, a portion of the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, where it is connected with the Pantanal region. This land is sometimes called the Chaco Plain; the name Chaco comes from a word in Quechua, an indigenous language from the Andes and highlands of South America. The quechua word chaqu meaning "hunting land" comes from the rich variety of animal life present throughout the entire region; the Gran Chaco is about 647,500 km ² in size. It is located west of the Paraguay River and east of the Andes, is an alluvial sedimentary plain shared among Paraguay and Argentina, it stretches from about 17 to 33°S latitude and between 65 and 60°W longitude, though estimates differ. The Chaco has been divided in three main parts: the Chaco Austral or Southern Chaco, south of the Bermejo River and inside Argentinian territory, blending into the Pampa region in its southernmost end.
Locals sometimes divide it today by the political borders, giving rise to the terms Argentinian Chaco, Paraguayan Chaco, Bolivian Chaco. The Chaco Boreal may be divided in two: closer to the mountains in the west, the Alto Chaco, sometimes known as Chaco Seco, is dry and sparsely vegetated. To the east, less arid conditions combined with favorable soil characteristics permit a seasonally dry higher-growth thorn tree forest, further east still higher rainfall combined with improperly drained lowland soils result in a somewhat swampy plain called the Bajo Chaco, sometimes known as Chaco Húmedo, it has a more open savanna vegetation consisting of palm trees, quebracho trees, tropical high-grass areas, with a wealth of insects. The landscape is flat and slopes at a 0.004-degree gradient to the east. This area is one of the distinct physiographic provinces of the Parana-Paraguay Plain division; the areas more hospitable to development are along the Paraguay and Pilcomayo Rivers. It is a great source of timber and tannin, derived from the native quebracho tree.
Special tannin factories have been constructed there. The wood of the palo santo from the Central Chaco is the source of oil of guaiac. Paraguay cultivates mate in the lower part of the Chaco. Large tracts of the central and northern Chaco have high soil fertility, sandy alluvial soils with elevated levels of phosphorus, a topography, favorable for agricultural development. Other aspects are challenging for farming: a semiarid to semihumid climate with a six-month dry season and sufficient fresh groundwater restricted to one-third of the region, two-thirds being without groundwater or with groundwater of high salinity. Soils are erosion-prone once the forest has been cleared. In the central and northern Paraguay Chaco, occasional dust storms have caused major topsoil loss; the Chaco was occupied by nomadic peoples, notably the various groups making up the Guaycuru, who resisted Spanish control with success, of the Chaco from the 16th until the early 20th centuries. Prior to national independence of the nations that compose the Chaco, the entire area was a separate colonial region named by the Spaniards as Chiquitos.
The Gran Chaco had been a disputed territory since 1810. It was supposed to be part of Argentina and Paraguay, although a bigger land portion west of the Paraguay River had belonged to Paraguay since its independence. Argentina claimed territories north of the Bermejo River until Paraguay's defeat in the War of the Triple Alliance in 1870 established its current border with Argentina. Over the next few decades, Bolivia began to push the natives out and settle in the Gran Chaco, while Paraguay ignored it. Bolivia sought the Paraguay River for shipping oil out into the sea, Paraguay claimed ownership of the land; this became the backdrop to the Gran Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia over supposed oil in the Chaco Boreal. Argentine Foreign Minister Carlos Saavedra Lamas mediated a ceasefire and subsequent treaty signed in 1938, which gave Paraguay three-quarters of the Chaco Boreal and gave Bolivia a corridor to the Paraguay River with the ability to use the Puerto Casado and the right to construct their own port.
No oil was found in the region until the 21st century. Mennonites immigrated into the Paraguayan part of the region from Canada in the 1920s; these immigrants created some of the largest and most prosperous municipalities in the deep Gran Chaco. The region is home to over 9 million people, divided about evenly among Argentina and Brazil, including around 100,000 in Paraguay; the area remains underdeveloped, In the 1960s, the Paraguayan authorities constructed the Trans-Chaco Highway and the Argentine National Highway Directorate, National Routes 16 and 81, in an effort to encour
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