South America, the fourth largest
continent; 17.8 million km2, 350 mln. in. (2001).
South America forms the southern part of the American
continent; geographically, the border between the north and
the south is most often set at the narrowest place in
Central America: the Panama Canal. In practice, the border
between Colombia and Panama separates the two continents.
The nature of South America holds great contrasts, from
tropical rainforest and subtropical desert in the north to
icy winds to the south. As a whole, South America is
sparsely populated and characterized by economic and social
inequalities, both within and between countries. A common
feature of all the states is the ethnic and cultural
diversity and mix as well as the great importance of the
most countries became independent in the 1800s, but
colonial dependence has been partly replaced by strong
economic ties with the United States and Western Europe.
South America contains landscapes with mountains,
rainforest, flood plains and low plateaus. The original
Native American population is still present in the
rainforest, but otherwise the population of the South
American countries is culturally mixed due to immigration
from around the world, beginning with the Spanish and
Portuguese colonization in the 1500s.
South America extends from the tropical climate zone
around the equator through the subtropical zone to the
temperate climate zone in the southern regions.
South America is located on the South American Plate,
which also includes the ocean floor of the South Atlantic up
to the ridge of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
In the Amazon slave country and on the eastern side of
the Andes, the world's largest contiguous area of tropical
rainforest is found. The diversity is very high; Ecuador has
at least 18,000 species of vascular plants, and Brazil maybe
South and Central America and the Caribbean comprise the
Neotropical region comprising the Amazon lowlands, mountain
forests and highland plains in the Andes, subtropical
savannas, the Patagonian plain and the temperate part of the
Andes with its moist coastal forests.
In most South American countries, the national language
is Spanish; however, Brazil, Guyana, French Guiana and
Suriname respectively. Portuguese, English, French and Dutch
as a national language. In a number of countries, some of
the Native American languages are also national languages.
The disease pattern is characterized by the different
climatic conditions. In the tropical countries, a large
number of tropical diseases continue to exist, among other
things. malaria and Chagas' disease, affecting the rural
Although South America consists of many different
nations, there are clear similarities between the
educational systems of the individual states, especially in
terms of school structure and education policy.
South America's first residents were descendants of the
groups who immigrated to North America from northern Asia
during the last Ice Age. The oldest traces of humans in
South America to date are 12,000-14,000 years old.