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(formerly Spanish Sahara)

World Factbook (1982) Western Sahara.jpg
(See reference map VII)


266,770 km2 , nearly all desert

Land boundaries: 2,086 km


Limits of territorial waters (claimed): 6 nm (fishing 12 nm)

Coastline: 1,110 km


Population: 86,000 (July 1982), average annual growth rate 1.8%

Nationality: noun—Saharan(s), Moroccan(s); adjective—Saharan, Moroccan

Ethnic divisions: Arab, Berber, and Negro nomads

Religion: Muslim

Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic

Literacy: among Moroccans, probably nearly 20%; among Saharans, perhaps 5%

Labor force: 12,000; 50% animal husbandry and subsistence farming, 50% other

Organized labor: none


Official name: Western Sahara

Type: legal status of territory and question of sovereignty unresolved—territory partitioned between Morocco and Mauritania in April 1976, with Morocco acquiring the northern two-thirds including the rich phosphate reserves at Bu Craa. Mauritania, under pressure from the 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 there; OAU-sponsored referendum proposed to resolve situation while guerrilla activities continue into 1982


Agriculture: practically none; some barley is grown in nondrought years; fruit and vegetables 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

Major industries: phosphate and iron mining, fishing, and handicrafts

Shortages: water

Electric power: 56,000 kW capacity (1980); 78 million kWh produced (1980), 772 kWh per capita

Exports: in 1975, up to $75 million in phosphates, all other exports valued at under $1 million

Imports: $1,443,000 (1968); fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs

Major trade partners: monetary trade largely with Spain and Spanish possessions, more recently with Morocco

Aid: small amounts from Spain in prior years; currently Morocco is major source of support

Monetary conversion rate: see Moroccan and Mauritanian currencies


Railroads: none

Highways: 6,100 km total; 500 km bituminous treated, 5,600 km unimproved earth roads and tracks

Ports: 2 major (El Aaiun, Dakhla)

Civil air: no major transport aircraft

Airfields: 15 total, 14 usable; 3 with permanent-surface runways; 1 with runways over 3,659; 1 with runways 2,440-3,659 m; 8 with runways 1,220-2,439 m

Telecommunications: sparse and fragmentary system with facilities concentrated in northwest area; some radio relay, wire, and radiocommunications stations in use; 1,000 telephones (0.7 per 100 popl.); 2 AM and no FM stations; 1 TV station