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CIA Seal  World Factbook Seal Western Sahara
Map of Western Sahara
Introduction Western Sahara
Morocco virtually annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and 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 cease-fire; a referendum on final status has been repeatedly postponed.
Geography Western Sahara
Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco
Geographic coordinates:
24 30 N, 13 00 W
Map references:
total: 266,000 sq km
water: 0 sq km
land: 266,000 sq km
Area - comparative:
about the size of Colorado
Land boundaries:
total: 2,046 km
border countries: Algeria 42 km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km
1,110 km
Maritime claims:
contingent upon resolution of sovereignty issue
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
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Sebjet Tah -55 m
highest point: unnamed location 463 m
Natural resources:
phosphates, iron ore
Land use:
arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (1998 est.)
Irrigated land:
NA sq km
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
Environment - current issues:
sparse water and lack of arable land
Environment - international agreements:
party to: none of the selected agreements
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements
Geography - note:
the waters off the coast are particularly rich fishing areas
People Western Sahara
256,177 (July 2002 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: NA%
15-64 years: NA%
65 years and over: NA%
Population growth rate:
NA (2002 est.)
Birth rate:
NA births/1,000 population
Death rate:
NA deaths/1,000 population
Sex ratio:
Infant mortality rate:
NA deaths/1,000 live births
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: NA years
male: NA years
female: NA years
Total fertility rate:
NA children born/woman
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
adjective: Sahrawian, Sahraouian
Ethnic groups:
Arab, Berber
Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
definition: NA
total population: NA%
male: NA%
female: NA%
Government Western Sahara
Country name:
conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Western Sahara
former: Spanish Sahara
Government type:
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),led by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ and recognized by 54 nations; 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
Administrative divisions:
none (under de facto control of Morocco)
none; a UN-sponsored voter identification campaign not yet completed
Executive branch:
Political pressure groups and leaders:
International organization participation:
Diplomatic representation in the US:
Diplomatic representation from the US:
Economy Western Sahara
Economy - overview:
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. All trade and other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan Government. Moroccan energy interests in 2001 signed contracts to explore for oil off the coast of Western Sahara, which has angered the Polisario. Incomes and standards of living in Western Sahara are substantially below the Moroccan level.
purchasing power parity - $NA
GDP - real growth rate:
GDP - per capita:
purchasing power parity - $NA
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: 40%-45% (1996 est.) (1996 est.)
Population below poverty line:
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Inflation rate (consumer prices):
Labor force:
Labor force - by occupation:
animal husbandry and subsistence farming 50%
Unemployment rate:
revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA, including capital expenditures of $NA
phosphate mining, handicrafts
Industrial production growth rate:
Electricity - production:
90 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - production by source:
fossil fuel: 100%
hydro: 0%
other: 0% (2000)
nuclear: 0%
Electricity - consumption:
83.7 million kWh (2000)
Electricity - exports:
0 kWh (2000)
Electricity - imports:
0 kWh (2000)
Agriculture - products:
fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases); camels, sheep, goats (kept by nomads)
Exports - commodities:
phosphates 62%
Exports - partners:
Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, so trade partners are included in overall Moroccan accounts
Imports - commodities:
fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
Imports - partners:
Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, so trade partners are included in overall Moroccan accounts
Debt - external:
Economic aid - recipient:
Moroccan dirham (MAD)
Currency code:
Exchange rates:
Moroccan dirhams per US dollar - 11.584 (January 2002), 11.303 (2001), 10.626 (2000), 9.804 (1999), 9.604 (1998), 9.527 (1997)
Fiscal year:
calendar year
Communications Western Sahara
Telephones - main lines in use:
about 2,000 (1999 est.)
Telephones - mobile cellular:
0 (1999)
Telephone system:
general assessment: sparse and limited system
domestic: NA
international: tied into Morocco's system by microwave radio relay, tropospheric scatter, and satellite; satellite earth stations - 2 Intelsat (Atlantic Ocean) linked to Rabat, Morocco
Radio broadcast stations:
AM 2, FM 0, shortwave 0 (1998)
56,000 (1997)
Television broadcast stations:
6,000 (1997)
Internet country code:
Internet Service Providers (ISPs):
1 (2000)
Internet users:
Transportation Western Sahara
0 km
total: 6,200 km
paved: 1,350 km
unpaved: 4,850 km (1991 est.)
Ports and harbors:
Ad Dakhla, Cabo Bojador, Laayoune (El Aaiun)
11 (2001)
Airports - with paved runways:
total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2002)
Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 8
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 4
under 914 m: 3 (2002)
Military Western Sahara
Military expenditures - dollar figure:
Military expenditures - percent of GDP:
Transnational Issues Western Sahara
Disputes - international:
Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, but sovereignty remains unresolved; UN-administered cease-fire has remained in effect since September 1991, but attempts to hold a referendum have failed and parties reject other proposals

This page was last updated on 19 March 2003