[Country map of Western Sahara]

Western Sahara


Location: Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco

Map references: Africa

total area: 266,000 sq km
land area: 266,000 sq km
comparative area: slightly smaller than Colorado

Land boundaries: total 2,046 km, Algeria 42 km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km

Coastline: 1,110 km

Maritime claims: contingent upon resolution of sovereignty issue

International disputes: claimed and administered by Morocco, but sovereignty is unresolved and the UN is attempting to hold a referendum on the issue; the UN-administered cease-fire has been currently in effect since September 1991

Climate: hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore air currents produce fog and heavy dew

Terrain: mostly low, flat desert with large areas of rocky or sandy surfaces rising to small mountains in south and northeast

Natural resources: phosphates, iron ore

Land use:
arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
meadows and pastures: 19%
forest and woodland: 0%
other: 81%

Irrigated land: NA sq km

current issues: sparse water and arable land
natural hazards: hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time, often severely restricting visibility
international agreements: NA


Population: 217,211 (July 1995 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: NA
15-64 years: NA
65 years and over: NA

Population growth rate: 2.48% (1995 est.)

Birth rate: 46.9 births/1,000 population (1995 est.)

Death rate: 18.52 deaths/1,000 population (1995 est.)

Net migration rate: -3.62 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1995 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 148.95 deaths/1,000 live births (1995 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 46.31 years
male: 45.34 years
female: 47.59 years (1995 est.)

Total fertility rate: 6.91 children born/woman (1995 est.)

noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
adjective: Sahrawian, Sahraouian

Ethnic divisions: Arab, Berber

Religions: Muslim

Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic

Literacy: NA%

Labor force: 12,000
by occupation: animal husbandry and subsistence farming 50%


conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Western Sahara

Digraph: WI

Type: legal status of territory and question of sovereignty unresolved; territory contested by Morocco and Polisario Front (Popular Front for the Liberation of the Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro), which in February 1976 formally proclaimed a government in exile of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR); territory partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976, with Morocco acquiring northern two-thirds; Mauritania, under pressure from Polisario guerrillas, abandoned all claims to its portion in August 1979; Morocco moved to occupy that sector shortly thereafter and has since asserted administrative control; the Polisario's government in exile was seated as an OAU member in 1984; guerrilla activities continued sporadically, until a UN-monitored cease-fire was implemented 6 September 1991

Capital: none

Administrative divisions: none (under de facto control of Morocco)

Executive branch: none

Member of: none

Diplomatic representation in US: none

US diplomatic representation: none


Overview: Western Sahara, a territory poor in natural resources and having little rainfall, depends on pastoral nomadism, fishing, and phosphate mining as the principal sources of income for the population. Most of the food for the urban population must be imported. All trade and other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan Government. Incomes and standards of living are substantially below the Moroccan level.

National product: GDP $NA

National product real growth rate: NA%

National product per capita: $NA

Inflation rate (consumer prices): NA%

Unemployment rate: NA%

revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA, including capital expenditures of $NA

Exports: $8 million (f.o.b., 1982 est.)
commodities: phosphates 62%
partners: Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, so trade partners are included in overall Moroccan accounts

Imports: $30 million (c.i.f., 1982 est.)
commodities: fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
partners: Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, so trade partners are included in overall Moroccan accounts

External debt: $NA

Industrial production: growth rate NA%

capacity: 60,000 kW
production: 79 million kWh
consumption per capita: 339 kWh (1993)

Industries: phosphate mining, handicrafts

Agriculture: limited largely to subsistence agriculture and fishing; some barley is grown in nondrought years; fruit and vegetables are grown in the few oases; food imports are essential; camels, sheep, and goats are kept by the nomadic natives; cash economy exists largely for the garrison forces

Economic aid: $NA

Currency: 1 Moroccan dirham (DH) = 100 centimes

Exchange rates: Moroccan dirhams (DH) per US$1 - 8.892 (January 1995), 9.203 (1994), 9.299 (1993), 8.538 (1992), 8.707 (1991), 8.242 (1990)

Fiscal year: NA


Railroads: 0 km

total: 6,200 km
unpaved: gravel 1,450 km; improved, unimproved earth, tracks 4,750 km

Ports: Ad Dakhla, Cabo Bojador, El Aaiun

total: 14
with paved runways 2,438 to 3,047 m: 3
with paved runways under 914 m: 3
with unpaved runways 1,524 to 2,438 m: 1
with unpaved runways 914 to 1,523 m: 7


Telephone system: 2,000 telephones; sparse and limited system
local: NA
intercity: NA
international: tied into Morocco's system by microwave radio relay, troposcatter, and 2 INTELSAT (Atlantic Ocean) earth stations linked to Rabat, Morocco

broadcast stations: AM 2, FM 0, shortwave 0
radios: NA

broadcast stations: 2
televisions: NA

Defense Forces

Branches: NA

Defense expenditures: $NA, NA% of GDP