Western Sahara  
Transnational Issues
[Country map of Western Sahara]

Western Sahara


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

Geographic coordinates: 24 30 N, 13 00 W

Map references: Africa

total: 266,000 sq km
land: 266,000 sq km
water: 0 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

Coastline: 1,110 km

Maritime claims: contingent upon resolution of sovereignty issue

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

Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Sebjet Tah -55 m
highest point: unnamed location 463 m

Natural resources: phosphates, iron ore

Land use:
arable land: 19%
permanent crops: 24%
permanent pastures: 0%
forests and woodland: 47%
other: 10% (1993 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 arable land

Environment—international agreements:
party to: none of the selected agreements
signed, but not ratified: none of the selected agreements


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Population: 233,730 (July 1998 est.)

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

Population growth rate: 2.4% (1998 est.)

Birth rate: 45.78 births/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Death rate: 17.05 deaths/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Net migration rate: -4.78 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1998 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 139.74 deaths/1,000 live births (1998 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 48.41 years
male: 47.32 years
female: 49.83 years (1998 est.)

Total fertility rate: 6.75 children born/woman (1998 est.)

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

Ethnic groups: Arab, Berber

Religions: Muslim

Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic

Literacy: NA


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Country name:
conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Western Sahara

Data code: WI

Government 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

National capital: none

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

Suffrage: none; a UN sponsored voter identification campaign has yet to be completed

Executive branch: none

International organization participation: none

Diplomatic representation in the US: none

Diplomatic representation from the US: none


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Economy—overview: Western Sahara, a territory poor in natural resources and lacking sufficient 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.

GDP: purchasing power parity—$NA

GDP—real growth rate: NA%

GDP—per capita: purchasing power parity—$NA

GDP—composition by sector:
agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: 40%-45% (1996 est.)

Inflation rate—consumer price index: NA%

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

Unemployment rate: NA%

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

Industries: phosphate mining, handicrafts

Industrial production growth rate: NA%

Electricity—capacity: 56,000 kW (1995)

Electricity—production: 85 million kWh (1995)

Electricity—consumption per capita: 391 kWh (1995)

Agriculture—products: fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases); camels, sheep, goats (kept by the nomads)

Exports: $NA
commodities: phosphates 62%
partners: Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, so trade partners are included in overall Moroccan accounts

Imports: $NA
commodities: fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
partners: Morocco claims and administers Western Sahara, so trade partners are included in overall Moroccan accounts

Debt—external: $NA

Economic aid:
recipient: ODA, $NA

Currency: 1 Moroccan dirham (DH) = 100 centimes

Exchange rates: Moroccan dirhams (DH) per US$1—9.822 (January 1998), 9.527 (1997), 8.716 (1996), 8.540 (1995), 9.203 (1994), 9.299 (1993)

Fiscal year: calendar year


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Telephones: 2,000

Telephone system: 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

Radios: NA

Television broadcast stations: 2

Televisions: NA


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Railways: 0 km

total: 6,200 km
paved: 1,350 km
unpaved: 4,850 km (1991 est.)

Ports and harbors: Ad Dakhla, Cabo Bojador, El Aaiun

Airports: 12 (1997 est.)

Airports—with paved runways:
total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (1997 est.)

Airports—with unpaved runways:
total: 9
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 5
under 914 m: 3 (1997 est.)

Heliports: 1 (1997 est.)


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Military branches: NA

Military expenditures—dollar figure: $NA

Military expenditures—percent of GDP: NA%

Transnational Issues

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Disputes—international: 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 in effect since September 1991