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Morocco 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 Morocco's sovereignty ended in a 1991 UN-brokered cease-fire and the nearly 1,700 mile-long defensive sand berm built by the Moroccans from 1980 to 1987 separates the opposing forces with Morocco controlling the roughly 80 percent of the territory west of the berm. A UN-organized referendum on the territory's final status has been repeatedly postponed. The UN since 2007 has sponsored intermittent talks between representatives of the Government of Morocco and the Polisario Front to negotiate the status of Western Sahara. Morocco has put forward an autonomy proposal for the territory, which... See More



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

Geographic Coordinates:

 24 30 N, 13 00 W


 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


 1,110 km (Rank: 82)

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 elevation 805 m

Natural Resources:

 Phosphates, iron ore

Land Use:

 Arable land: 0.02%
Permanent crops: 0%
Other: 99.98% (2005)

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

Geography - Note:

 The waters off the coast are particularly rich fishing areas

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 Noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
Adjective: Sahrawi, Sahrawian, Sahraouian

Ethnic Groups:

 Arab, Berber


 Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic




 507,160 (July 2011 est.)

Note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries

Age Structure:

 0-14 years: 38.9% (male 99,797/female 97,700)
15-64 years: 57.5% (male 143,808/female 147,823)
65 years and over: 3.6% (male 7,918/female 10,114) (2011 est.)

Median Age:

 Total: 20.3 years
Male: 19.8 years
Female: 20.8 years (2011 est.)

Population Growth Rate:

 3.097% (2011 est.)

Birth Rate:

 32.1 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)

Death Rate:

 8.96 deaths/1,000 population (July 2011 est.)


 Urban population: 82% of total population (2010)
Rate of urbanization: 3.5% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

Major Cities - Population:

 EL AAIUN (capital) 213,000 (2009)

Sex Ratio:

 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 (2011 est.)

Infant Mortality Rate:

 Total: 60.44 deaths/1,000 live births
Male: 65.55 deaths/1,000 live births
Female: 55.13 deaths/1,000 live births (2011 est.)

Life Expectancy At Birth:

 Total population: 61.13 years
Male: 58.94 years
Female: 63.41 years (2011 est.)

Total Fertility Rate:

 4.3 children born/woman (2011 est.)

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Country Name:

 Conventional long form: none
Conventional short form: Western Sahara
Former: Rio de Oro, Saguia el Hamra, 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, 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)
Daylight saving time: +1hr, begins first Sunday in April; ends last Sunday in July

Administrative Divisions:

 None (territory west of the berm under de facto Moroccan control)


 None; (residents of Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara participate in Moroccan elections)

International Organization Participation:


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Economy - Overview:

 Western Sahara has a small market-based economy whose main industries are fishing, phosphate mining, and pastoral nomadism. The territory's arid desert climate makes sedentary agriculture difficult, and Western Sahara imports much of its food. The Moroccan Government administers Western Sahara's economy and is a source of employment, infrastructure development, and social spending in the territory. Western Sahara's unresolved legal status makes the exploitation of its natural resources a contentious issue between Morocco and the Polisario. Morocco and the EU in July 2006 signed a four-year agreement allowing European vessels to fish off the coast of Morocco, including the disputed waters off the coast of Western Sahara. Oil has never been found in Western Sahara in commercially significant quantities, but Morocco and the Polisario have quarreled over who has the right to authorize and benefit from oil exploration in the territory. Western Sahara's main long-term economic challenge is the development of a more diverse set of industries capable of providing greater employment and income to the territory.

GDP (Purchasing Power Parity):

 $900 million (2007 est.)

GDP - Real Growth Rate:


GDP - Per Capita (PPP):

 $2,500 (2007 est.)

GDP - Composition By Sector:

 Agriculture: NA%
Industry: NA%
Services: 40% (2007 est.)

Labor Force:

 144,000 (2010 est.)

Labor Force - By Occupation:

 Agriculture: 50%
Industry and services: 50% (2005 est.)

Unemployment Rate:


Population Below Poverty Line:


Household Income / Consumption By Share:

 Lowest 10%: NA%
Highest 10%: NA%


 Revenues: $NA
Expenditures: $NA

Inflation Rate (Consumer Prices):


Agriculture - Products:

 Fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases); camels, sheep, goats (kept by nomads); fish


 Phosphate mining, handicrafts

Industrial Production Growth Rate:


Electricity - Production:

 90 million kWh (2008 est.)

Electricity - Production By Source:

 Fossil fuel: 100%
Hydro: 0%
Nuclear: 0%
Other: 0% (2001)

Electricity - Consumption:

 83.7 million kWh (2008 est.)

Electricity - Exports:

 0 kWh (2009 est.)

Electricity - Imports:

 0 kWh (2009 est.)

Oil - Production:

 0 bbl/day (2010 est.)

Oil - Consumption:

 2,000 bbl/day (2010 est.)

Oil - Exports:

 0 bbl/day (2009 est.)

Oil - Imports:

 1,802 bbl/day (2009 est.)

Oil - Proven Reserves:

 0 bbl (1 January 2011 est.)

Natural Gas - Production:

 0 cu m (2009 est.)

Natural Gas - Consumption:

 0 cu m (2009 est.)

Natural Gas - Exports:

 0 cu m (2009 est.)

Natural Gas - Imports:

 0 cu m (2009 est.)

Natural Gas - Proven Reserves:

 0 cu m (1 January 2011 est.)

Exports - Commodities:

 Phosphates 62%

Imports - Commodities:

 Fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs

Exchange Rates:

 Convert Moroccan Dirham to Any Currency

Moroccan dirhams (MAD) per US dollar -
8.3619 (2010)
8.0571 (2009)
8.3563 (2007)
8.7722 (2006)

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Telephones - Main Lines In Use:

 NA (2010)

Telephones - Cellular:

 NA (2010)

Telephone System:

 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

Broadcast Media:

 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)

Radio Broadcast Stations:

 AM 2, FM 0, shortwave 0 (1998)

Internet Country Code:


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 6 (2010)

Airports - With Paved Runways:

 Total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2010)

Airports - With Unpaved Runways:

 Total: 3
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1
Under 914 m: 1 (2010)

Ports and Terminals:

 Ad Dakhla, Laayoune (El Aaiun)

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Manpower Fit For Military Service:

 Males age 16-49: 79,489
Females age 16-49: 87,362 (2010 est.)

Manpower Reaching Militarily Significant Age Annually:

 Male: 5,523
Female: 5,429 (2010 est.)

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Disputes - International:

 Many neighboring states reject Moroccan administration of Western Sahara; 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

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Last Updated: December 2011

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