Introduction ::Western Sahara
Morocco virtually annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and claimed the rest of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania's withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Rabat's sovereignty ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire; a UN-organized referendum on the territory's final status has been repeatedly postponed. In April 2007, UN-sponsored talks between representatives from the Government of Morocco and the Polisario Front to negotiate the status of Western Sahara, which stalled in April 2008, resumed in August 2009. Rabat has put forward an autonomy proposal for the territory, which would allow for some local administration while maintaining Moroccan sovereignty. The Polisario, with Algeria's support, demands a popular referendum that includes the option of independence.
Geography ::Western Sahara
Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco
24 30 N, 13 00 W
total: 266,000 sq km
country comparison to the world: 77
land: 266,000 sq km
water: 0 sq km
about the size of Colorado
total: 2,046 km
border countries: Algeria 42 km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km
1,110 km
contingent upon resolution of sovereignty issue
Current Weather
hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore air currents produce fog and heavy dew
mostly low, flat desert with large areas of rocky or sandy surfaces rising to small mountains in south and northeast
lowest point: Sebjet Tah -55 m
highest point: unnamed elevation 805 m
phosphates, iron ore
arable land: 0.02%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 99.98% (2005)
hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time, often severely restricting visibility
sparse water and lack of arable land
party to: none of the selected agreements
the waters off the coast are particularly rich fishing areas
People ::Western Sahara
country comparison to the world: 172
note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries (July 2010 est.)
0-14 years: 44.9% (male 92,428/female 89,570)
15-64 years: 52.8% (male 105,191/female 108,803)
65 years and over: 2.3% (male 3,881/female 5,337) (2010 est.)
total: 20.1 years
male: 19.7 years
female: 20.6 years (2010 est.)
2.829% NA (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 15
39.54 births/1,000 population (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 15
11.49 deaths/1,000 population (July 2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 41
urban population: 81% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 4% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.78 male(s)/female
total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2010 est.)
total: 69.66 deaths/1,000 live births
country comparison to the world: 24
male: 69.84 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 69.47 deaths/1,000 live births (2010 est.)
total population: 54.32 years
country comparison to the world: 198
male: 52 years
female: 56.73 years (2010 est.)
4.37 children born/woman (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 12
noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
adjective: Sahrawi, Sahrawian, Sahraouian
Arab, Berber
Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Government ::Western Sahara
conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Western Sahara
former: Rio de Oro, Saguia el Hamra, Spanish Sahara
legal status of territory and issue 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), near Tindouf, Algeria, led by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ; territory partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976 when Spain withdrew, 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 Organization of African Unity (OAU) member in 1984; Morocco between 1980 and 1987 built a fortified sand berm delineating the roughly 80 percent of Western Sahara west of the barrier that currently is controlled by Morocco; guerrilla activities continued sporadically until a UN-monitored cease-fire was implemented on 6 September 1991 (Security Council Resolution 690) by the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO)
time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
none (territory west of the berm under de facto Moroccan control)
none; (residents of Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara participate in Moroccan elections)
Economy ::Western Sahara
Western Sahara depends on pastoral nomadism, fishing, and phosphate mining as the principal sources of income for the population. The territory lacks sufficient rainfall for sustainable agricultural production, and most of the food for the urban population must be imported. Incomes in Western Sahara are substantially below the Moroccan level. The Moroccan Government controls all trade and other economic activities in Western Sahara. Morocco and the EU signed a four-year agreement in July 2006 allowing European vessels to fish off the coast of Morocco, including the disputed waters off the coast of Western Sahara. Moroccan energy interests in 2001 signed contracts to explore for oil off the coast of Western Sahara, which has angered the Polisario. However, in 2006 the Polisario awarded similar exploration licenses in the disputed territory, which would come into force if Morocco and the Polisario resolve their dispute over Western Sahara.
$900 million (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 203
$2,500 (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 173
agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: 40% (2007 est.)
12,000 (2005 est.)
country comparison to the world: 213
agriculture: 50%
industry and services: 50% (2005 est.)
lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA
fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases); camels, sheep, goats (kept by nomads); fish
phosphate mining, handicrafts
90 million kWh (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 192
83.7 million kWh (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 193
0 kWh (2008 est.)
0 kWh (2008 est.)
0 bbl/day (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 121
2,000 bbl/day (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 185
0 bbl/day (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 167
1,702 bbl/day (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 178
0 bbl (1 January 2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 106
0 cu m (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 111
0 cu m (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 162
0 cu m (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 98
0 cu m (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 114
0 cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 119
phosphates 62%
fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
Moroccan dirhams (MAD) per US dollar - 8.1081 (2009), 7.526 (2008), 8.3563 (2007), 8.7722 (2006), 8.865 (2005)
Communications ::Western Sahara
about 2,000 (1999 est.)
0 (1999)
country comparison to the world: 222
general assessment: sparse and limited system
domestic: NA
international: country code - 212; tied into Morocco's system by microwave radio relay, tropospheric scatter, and satellite; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) linked to Rabat, Morocco
Morocco's state-owned broadcaster, Radio-Television Marocaine (RTM), operates a radio service from Laayoune and relays TV service; a Polisario-backed radio station also broadcasts (2008)
Transportation ::Western Sahara
6 (2010)
country comparison to the world: 175
total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2010)
total: 3
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 1 (2010)
Ad Dakhla, Cabo Bojador, Laayoune (El Aaiun)
Military ::Western Sahara
males age 16-49: 76,483
females age 16-49: 83,988 (2010 est.)
male: 5,376
female: 5,280 (2010 est.)
Transnational Issues ::Western Sahara
Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, whose sovereignty remains unresolved; UN-administered cease-fire has remained in effect since September 1991, administered by the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO), but attempts to hold a referendum have failed and parties thus far have rejected all brokered proposals; several states have extended diplomatic relations to the "Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic" represented by the Polisario Front in exile in Algeria, while others recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara; most of the approximately 102,000 Sahrawi refugees are sheltered in camps in Tindouf, Algeria