Western Sahara

See regional map VII


Total area: 266,000 km²; land area: 266,000 km²

Comparative area: slightly smaller than Colorado

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

Coastline: 1,110 km

Maritime claims: contingent upon resolution of sovereignty issue

Disputes: claimed and administered by Morocco, but sovereignty is unresolved and guerrilla fighting continues in the area

Climate: hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore 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: NEGL% arable land; 0% permanent crops; 19% meadows and pastures; 0% forest and woodland; 81% other

Environment: 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 arable land


Population: 191,707 (July 1990), growth rate 2.7% (1990)

Birth rate: 48 births/1,000 population (1990)

Death rate: 23 deaths/1,000 population (1990)

Net migration rate: 2 migrants/1,000 population (1990)

Infant mortality rate: 177 deaths/1,000 live births (1990)

Life expectancy at birth: 39 years male, 41 years female (1990)

Total fertility rate: 7.3 children born/woman (1990)

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

Ethnic divisions: Arab and Berber

Religion: Muslim

Language: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic

Literacy: 20% among Moroccans, 5% among Saharans (est.)

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

Organized labor: NA


Long-form name: none

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); 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 continue to the present

Capital: none

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

Leaders: none

Diplomatic representation: none


Overview: Western Sahara, a territory poor in natural resources and having little rainfall, has a per capita GDP of just a few hundred dollars. Fishing and phosphate mining are the principal industries and sources of income. Most of the food for the urban population must be imported. All trade and other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan Government.

GDP: $NA, per capita $NA; real growth rate NA%

Inflation rate (consumer prices): NA%

Unemployment rate: NA%

Budget: 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%

Electricity: 60,000 kW capacity; 79 million kWh produced, 425 kWh per capita (1989)

Industries: phosphate, fishing, handicrafts

Agriculture: practically none; 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

Aid: NA

Currency: Moroccan dirham (plural—dirhams); 1 Moroccan dirham (DH) = 100 centimes

Exchange rates: Moroccan dirhams (DH) per US$1—8.093 (January 1990), 8.488 (1989), 8.209 (1988), 8.359 (1987), 9.104 (1986), 10.062 (1985)

Fiscal year: NA


Highways: 6,100 km total; 1,350 km surfaced, 4,750 km improved and unimproved earth roads and tracks

Ports: El Aaiun, Ad Dakhla

Airports: 16 total, 14 usable; 3 with permanent-surface runways; none with runways over 3,659 m; 3 with runways 2,440-3,659 m; 6 with runways 1,220-2,439 m

Telecommunications: sparse and limited system; tied into Morocco's system by radio relay, tropospheric scatter, and 2 Atlantic Ocean INTELSAT earth stations linked to Rabat, Morocco; 2,000 telephones; stations—2 AM, no FM, 2 TV

Defense Forces

Branches: NA

Military manpower: NA

Defense expenditures: NA