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Countries > Western Sahara Western Sahara Flag

Languages   One language is spoken in Western Sahara. We have 298 products available for that language.

Capital: Ayoun
Population: 350,000
Description: Western Sahara has been engaged in a war with Morocco since 1975. Western Sahara was originally a Spanish colony and as Spain was preparing to withdraw from Morocco and grant the Western Saharans (or Saharawis) independence, they made a secret deal with Morocco and Mauritania to access the territory. So, as Spain left in 1975, Morocco and Mauritania invaded Western Sahara. The majority of the Saharawis fled to Algeria where they established their nation-in-exile, the Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Polisario (or Frente Popular para la Liberacion de Saguia el Hamra y Rio de Oro) is the Saharawi liberation movement that fought the war for 15 years, until a UN sponsored cease-fire was negotiated with Morocco in 1991 (Mauritania had already signed a peace treaty with Polisario in 1979). The current president of the SADR is Mohammed Abdelaziz.

Currently, there are an estimated 165,000-200,000 Western Saharans living in exile in Algeria. The remaining Saharawis in Western Sahara live under Moroccan occupation. In addition, Morocco constructed a wall -- longer than the Great Wall of China -- that divides the country and seals in the territory that Morocco controls, nearly two-thirds of the country. The eastern third is controlled by Polisario.

The capital of Western Sahara is Ayoun (also spelled El-Ayoun, Laayoune or El-Aaiun) and is currently occupied and controlled illegally by Moroccans. I don't have figures on the current demographics of Western Sahara since Morocco does not release that information. You could try checking, which is the most comprehensive Western Saharan site. They might have recent estimates.

Also, the Saharawis speak Hassaniya (a dialect of Arabic) and Spanish as a result of colonization, whereas Moroccans speak French and a different Arabic dialect.

Thanks to Ms. Shelley Wagner Beirouk for this information.

Western Sahara Map


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% (1998 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


Population: 256,177 (July 2002 est.)

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

Population growth rate: 2.43% (1997 est.)

Birth rate: 46.14 births/1,000 population (1997 est.)

Death rate: 17.53 deaths/1,000 population (1997 est.)

Net migration rate: -4.28 migrant(s)/1,000 population (1997 est.)

Sex ratio:
at birth: NA male(s)/female
under 15 years: NA male(s)/female
15-64 years: NA male(s)/female
65 years and over: NA male(s)/female
total population: NA male(s)/female

Infant mortality rate: 142.75 deaths/1,000 live births (1997 est.)

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 47.71 years
male: 46.66 years
female: 49.09 years (1997 est.)

Total fertility rate: 6.8 children born/woman (1997 est.)

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

Ethnic groups: Arab, Berber

Religions: Muslim

Languages: Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic

Literacy: NA


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


Economy - overview: Western Sahara, a territory poor in natural resources and having little 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: 90 million kWh (2000)

Electricity - consumption per capita: 83.7 million kWh (2000)

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(MAD) = 100 centimes

Exchange rates: Moroccan dirhams per US dollar - 11.584 (January 2002), 11.303 (2001), 10.626 (2000), 9.804 (1999), 9.604 (1998), 9.527 (1997)

Fiscal year: calendar year


Telephones: about 2,000 (1999 est.)

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 (1998)

Radios: 56,000 (1997)

Television broadcast stations: 2

Televisions:6,000 (1997)


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: 11 (2001)

Airports - with paved runways:
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2001)

Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 8
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 4
under 914 m: 3 (2001)

Heliports: 1 (1996 est.)


Military branches: NA

Military manpower - availability:
males age 15-49 : NA

Military manpower - fit for military service:
males: NA

Military expenditures - dollar figure: $NA

Military expenditures - percent of GDP: NA%

Transnational Issues

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

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