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Western Sahara country facts

Africa N/A 554,795 inhabitants 266,000 sq km 2.09 inhabitants/sq km Moroccan dirhams (MAD) population evolution



Western Sahara is a disputed territory on the northwest coast of Africa bordered by Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria. After Spain withdrew from its former colony of Spanish Sahara in 1976, Morocco annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara 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 cease-fire and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation. As part of this effort, the UN sought to offer a choice to the peoples of the Western Sahara between independence (favored by the Polisario Front) or integration into Morocco. A proposed referendum never took place due to lack of agreement on voter eligibility. The 2,700 km- (1,700 mi-) long defensive sand berm, built by the Moroccans from 1980 to 1987 and running the length of the territory, continues to separate the opposing forces with Morocco controlling the roughly 80 percent of the territory west of the berm. Local demonstrations criticizing the Moroccan authorities occur regularly, and there are periodic ethnic tensions between the native Sahrawi population and Moroccan immigrants. Morocco maintains a heavy security presence in the territory.



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

Geographic coordinates

24 30 N, 13 00 W

Area (sq km)

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

Area - comparative (sq km)

about the size of Colorado

Land boundaries (km)

total: 2,046 km
border countries: Algeria 42 km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km

Coastline (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 (m)

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% (2011)

Irrigated land (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

Geography - note

the waters off the coast are particularly rich fishing areas

People and Society


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

Ethnic groups (%)

Arab, Berber

Languages (%)

Standard Arabic (national), Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic

Religions (%)



554,795 (July 2013 est.)
note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries (July 2014 est.)   evolution and prospects (1950-2100)

Age structure (%)

0-14 years: 38.1% (male 106,868/female 104,574)
15-24 years: 19.7% (male 54,970/female 54,217)
25-54 years: 33.7% (male 91,986/female 95,114)
55-64 years: 4.8% (male 12,408/female 14,159)
65 years and over: 3.6% (male 9,002/female 11,497) (2014 est.)

Age structure in Western Sahara

Median age (years)

total: 20.8 years
male: 20.3 years
female: 21.3 years (2014 est.)

Population growth rate (%)

2.89% (2014 est.)

Birth rate (births/1,000 population)

30.71 births/1,000 population (2014 est.)

Death rate (deaths/1,000 population)

8.49 deaths/1,000 population (2014 est.)

Urbanization (%)

urban population: 82% of total population (2011)
rate of urbanization: 3.49% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

Major urban areas - population

Laayoune 237,000 (2011)

Sex ratio (male(s)/female)

at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.99 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.78 male(s)/female
total population: 0.98 male(s)/female (2014 est.)

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

total: 56.09 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 61.04 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 50.93 deaths/1,000 live births (2014 est.)

Life expectancy at birth (years)

total population: 62.27 years
male: 60 years
female: 64.63 years (2014 est.)

Total fertility rate (children born/woman)

4.07 children born/woman (2014 est.)

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate (%)


HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS


HIV/AIDS - deaths


Literacy (%)



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), based out of refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria, led by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ


Laayoune (administrative center)
time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in April; ends last Sunday in September

Administrative divisions

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


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

Executive branch


Political pressure groups and leaders


International organization participation

AU, CAN (observer), WFTU (NGOs)

Diplomatic representation in the US


Diplomatic representation from the US



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 key 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 December 2013 finalized a four-year agreement allowing European vessels to fish off the coast of Morocco, including 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)

$906.5 million (2007 est.)

GDP (official exchange rate)


GDP - real growth rate (%)


GDP - per capita (PPP)

$2,500 (2007 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin (%)

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 or consumption by percentage 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 (%)




Exports - commodities (%)

phosphates 62%



Imports - commodities (%)

fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs

External debt ($)


Exchange rates

Currency converter
Moroccan dirhams (MAD) per US dollar -
8.439 (2013)
8.6026 (2012)
8.4172 (2010)
8.0571 (2009)
7.526 (2008)

Fiscal year

calendar year


Electricity - production (kWh)

90 million kWh (2010 est.)

Electricity - consumption (kWh)

83.7 million kWh (2010 est.)

Electricity - exports (kWh)

0 kWh (2012 est.)

Electricity - imports (kWh)

0 kWh (2012 est.)

Electricity - installed generating capacity (kW)

58,000 kW (2010 est.)

Electricity - from fossil fuels (% of total installed capacity)

100% of total installed capacity (2010 est.)

Electricity - from nuclear fuels (% of total installed capacity)

0% of total installed capacity (2010 est.)

Electricity - from hydroelectric plants (% of total installed capacity)

0% of total installed capacity (2010 est.)

Electricity - from other renewable sources (% of total installed capacity)

0% of total installed capacity (2010 est.)

Crude oil - production (bbl/day)

0 bbl/day (2012 est.)

Crude oil - exports (bbl/day)

0 bbl/day (2010 est.)

Crude oil - imports (bbl/day)

0 bbl/day (2010 est.)

Crude oil - proved reserves (bbl)

0 bbl (1 January 2013 est.)

Refined petroleum products - production (bbl/day)

0 bbl/day (2010 est.)

Refined petroleum products - consumption (bbl/day)

1,948 bbl/day (2011 est.)

Refined petroleum products - exports (bbl/day)

0 bbl/day (2010 est.)

Refined petroleum products - imports (bbl/day)

1,702 bbl/day (2010 est.)

Natural gas - production (cu m)

0 cu m (2011 est.)

Natural gas - consumption (cu m)

0 cu m (2010 est.)

Natural gas - exports (cu m)

0 cu m (2011 est.)

Natural gas - imports (cu m)

0 cu m (2011 est.)

Natural gas - proved reserves (cu m)

0 cu m (1 January 2013 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy (Mt)

316,700 Mt (2011 est.)


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 (2008)

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)

Internet country code




6 (2013)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2013)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 3
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 1 (2013)

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Ad Dakhla, Laayoune (El Aaiun)


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.)

Transnational Issues

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; approximately 90,000 Sahrawi refugees continue to be sheltered in camps in Tindouf, Algeria, which has hosted Sahrawi refugees since the 1980s

Largest cities of Western Sahara

These are the 50 largest cities of Western Sahara ordered based on their number of inhabitants.

# City Population