Western Sahara

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PAGE LAST UPDATED ON NOVEMBER 10, 2011
Location of Western Sahara
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Map of Western Sahara
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NO PHOTOS AVAILABLE OF WESTERN SAHARA
 

Introduction

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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 would allow for some local administration while maintaining Moroccan sovereignty. The Polisario, with Algeria's support, demands a popular referendum that includes the option of independence. Ethnic tensions in Western Sahara occasionally erupt into violence requiring a Moroccan security force response.
 
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Geography

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Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco
 
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24 30 N, 13 00 W
 
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total: 266,000 sq km
country comparison to the world: 78
land: 266,000 sq km
water: 0 sq km
 
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about the size of Colorado
 
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total: 2,046 km
border countries: Algeria 42 km, Mauritania 1,561 km, Morocco 443 km
 
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1,110 km
 
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contingent upon resolution of sovereignty issue
 
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hot, dry desert; rain is rare; cold offshore air currents produce fog and heavy dew
 
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mostly low, flat desert with large areas of rocky or sandy surfaces rising to small mountains in south and northeast
 
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lowest point: Sebjet Tah -55 m
highest point: unnamed elevation 805 m
 
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phosphates, iron ore
 
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arable land: 0.02%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 99.98% (2005)
 
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NA
 
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hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time, often severely restricting visibility
 
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sparse water and lack of arable land
 
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party to: none of the selected agreements
 
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the waters off the coast are particularly rich fishing areas
 
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People and Society

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noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
adjective: Sahrawi, Sahrawian, Sahraouian
 
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Arab, Berber
 
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Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
 
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Muslim
 
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507,160 (July 2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 171
note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries
 
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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.)
 
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total: 20.3 years
male: 19.8 years
female: 20.8 years (2011 est.)
 
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3.097% (2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 9
 
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32.1 births/1,000 population (2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 40
 
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8.96 deaths/1,000 population (July 2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 71
 
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urban population: 82% of total population (2010)
rate of urbanization: 3.5% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)
 
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EL AAIUN (capital) 213,000 (2009)
 
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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.)
 
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total: 60.44 deaths/1,000 live births
country comparison to the world: 34
male: 65.55 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 55.13 deaths/1,000 live births (2011 est.)
 
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total population: 61.13 years
country comparison to the world: 185
male: 58.94 years
female: 63.41 years (2011 est.)
 
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4.3 children born/woman (2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 36
 
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NA
 
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NA
 
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NA
 
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NA
 
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NA
 
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NA
 
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Government

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conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Western Sahara
former: Rio de Oro, Saguia el Hamra, Spanish Sahara
 
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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)
 
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none
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
 
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none (territory west of the berm under de facto Moroccan control)
 
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none; (residents of Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara participate in Moroccan elections)
 
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none
 
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none
 
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AU, WFTU
 
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none
 
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none
 
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Economy

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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.
 
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$900 million (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 203
 
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$NA
 
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NA%
 
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$2,500 (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 179
 
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agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: 40% (2007 est.)
 
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144,000 (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 177
 
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agriculture: 50%
industry and services: 50% (2005 est.)
 
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NA%
 
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NA%
 
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lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
 
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revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA
 
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NA%
 
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fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases); camels, sheep, goats (kept by nomads); fish
 
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phosphate mining, handicrafts
 
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NA%
 
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90 million kWh (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 197
 
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83.7 million kWh (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 197
 
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0 kWh (2009 est.)
 
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0 kWh (2009 est.)
 
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0 bbl/day (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 211
 
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2,000 bbl/day (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 191
 
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0 bbl/day (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 146
 
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1,802 bbl/day (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 183
 
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0 bbl (1 January 2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 209
 
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0 cu m (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 208
 
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0 cu m (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 144
 
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0 cu m (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 206
 
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0 cu m (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 76
 
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0 cu m (1 January 2011 est.)
country comparison to the world: 206
 
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$NA
 
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phosphates 62%
 
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$NA
 
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fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
 
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$NA
 
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Moroccan dirhams (MAD) per US dollar -
8.3619 (2010)
8.0571 (2009)
8.3563 (2007)
8.7722 (2006)
 
 
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Communications

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NA (2010)
 
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NA (2010)
 
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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
 
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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)
 
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.eh
 
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Transportation

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6 (2010)
country comparison to the world: 176
 
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total: 3
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3 (2010)
 
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total: 3
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 1 (2010)
 
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Ad Dakhla, Laayoune (El Aaiun)
 
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Military

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males age 16-49: 79,489
females age 16-49: 87,362 (2010 est.)
 
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male: 5,523
female: 5,429 (2010 est.)
 
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Transnational Issues

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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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