Western Sahara - Economic Indicators

Economic 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...

Continue reading View Factbook for Western Sahara

Demographics Reference Last Previous Units Frequency
Birth Rate 2050 18.53 18.77 # per Ths. pop., NSA Annual
Death Rate 2050 6.38 6.38 # per Ths. pop., NSA Annual
Population 2050 1,173,350 1,155,900 Person, NSA Annual
Net Migration 2050 2.69 2.74 Per Thousand, NSA Annual

Factbook

Background

Background:
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 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.

Geography

Location:
Northern Africa, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco
Geographic coordinates:
24 30 N, 13 00 W
Map references:
Africa
Area:
total: 266,000 sq km
land: 266,000 sq km
water: 0 sq km
country comparison to the world: 79
Area - comparative:
about the size of Colorado
Land boundaries:
total: 2,049 km
border countries (3): Algeria 41 km, Mauritania 1,564 km, Morocco 444 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:
mean elevation: 256 m
elevation extremes: lowest point: Sebjet Tah -55 m
highest point: unnamed elevation 805 m
Natural resources:
phosphates, iron ore
Land use:
agricultural land: 18.8%
arable land 0%; permanent crops 0%; permanent pasture 18.8%
forest: 2.7%
other: 78.5% (2011 est.)
Irrigated land:
0 sq km (2012)
Population - distribution:
most of the population lives in the two-thirds of the area west of the berm (Moroccan-occupied) that divides the territory; about 40% of that populace resides in Laayoune
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
Geography - note:
the waters off the coast are particularly rich fishing areas

People & Society

Population:
603,253
note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries (July 2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 169
Nationality:
noun: Sahrawi(s), Sahraoui(s)
adjective: Sahrawi, Sahrawian, Sahraouian
Ethnic groups:
Arab, Berber
Languages:
Standard Arabic (national), Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic
Religions:
Muslim
Demographic profile:
Western Sahara is a disputed territory; 85% is under Moroccan control. It was inhabited almost entirely by Sahrawi pastoral nomads until the mid-20th century. Their traditional vast migratory ranges, based on following unpredictable rainfall, did not coincide with colonial and later international borders. Since the 1930s, most Sahrawis have been compelled to adopt a sedentary lifestyle and to live in urban settings as a result of fighting, the presence of minefields, job opportunities in the phosphate industry, prolonged drought, the closure of Western Sahara’s border with Mauritania from 1979-2002, and the construction of the defensive berm separating Moroccan- and Polisario-controlled (Sahrawi liberalization movement) areas. Morocco supported rapid urbanization to facilitate surveillance and security.
Today more than 80% of Western Sahara’s population lives in urban areas; more than 40% live in the administrative center Laayoune. Moroccan immigration has altered the composition and dramatically increased the size of Western Sahara’s population. Morocco maintains a large military presence in Western Sahara and has encouraged its citizens to settle there, offering bonuses, pay raises, and food subsidies to civil servants and a tax exemption, in order to integrate Western Sahara into the Moroccan Kingdom and, Sahrawis contend, to marginalize the native population.
Western Saharan Sahrawis have been migrating to Europe, principally to former colonial ruler Spain, since the 1950s. Many who moved to refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, also have migrated to Spain and Italy, usually alternating between living in cities abroad with periods back at the camps. The Polisario claims that the population of the Tindouf camps is about 155,000, but this figure may include thousands of Arabs and Tuaregs from neighboring countries. Because international organizations have been unable to conduct an independent census in Tindouf, the UNHCR bases its aid on a figure of 90,000 refugees. Western Saharan coastal towns emerged as key migration transit points (for reaching Spain’s Canary Islands) in the mid-1990s, when Spain’s and Italy’s tightening of visa restrictions and EU pressure on Morocco and other North African countries to control illegal migration pushed sub-Saharan African migrants to shift their routes to the south.
Age structure:
0-14 years: 37.24% (male 113,581/female 111,077)
15-24 years: 19.53% (male 59,309/female 58,478)
25-54 years: 34.33% (male 102,031/female 105,093)
55-64 years: 5.03% (male 14,153/female 16,178)
65 years and over: 3.87% (male 10,287/female 13,066) (2017 est.)
population pyramid:
Dependency ratios:
total dependency ratio: 45
youth dependency ratio: 41.4
elderly dependency ratio: 3.7
potential support ratio: 27.1 (2015 est.)
Median age:
total: 21.3 years
male: 20.8 years
female: 21.8 years (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 182
Population growth rate:
2.7% (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 14
Birth rate:
29.3 births/1,000 population (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 42
Death rate:
8.1 deaths/1,000 population (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 89
Population distribution:
most of the population lives in the two-thirds of the area west of the berm (Moroccan-occupied) that divides the territory; about 40% of that populace resides in Laayoune
Urbanization:
urban population: 81.1% of total population (2017)
rate of urbanization: 2.87% annual rate of change (2015-20 est.)
Major urban areas - population:
Laayoune 262,000 (2014)
Sex ratio:
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: 0.87 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.78 male(s)/female
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2016 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
total: 51.9 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 56.7 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 46.9 deaths/1,000 live births (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 27
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 63.4 years
male: 61.1 years
female: 65.8 years (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 192
Total fertility rate:
3.86 children born/woman (2017 est.)
country comparison to the world: 40
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
NA
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
NA
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
NA

Government

Country name:
conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Western Sahara
former: Rio de Oro, Saguia el Hamra, Spanish Sahara
etymology: self-descriptive name specifying the territory's western location on the African continent's vast desert
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 of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), near Tindouf, Algeria, was led by President Mohamed ABDELAZIZ until his death in May 2016; current President Brahim GHALI elected in July 2016; 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)
Capital:
Laayoune (administrative center)
time difference: UTC 0 (5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)
daylight saving time: +1hr, begins last Sunday in March; ends last Sunday in October
Administrative divisions:
none officially; the territory west of the Moroccan berm falls under de facto Moroccan control; Morocco claims the territory of Western Sahara, the political status of which is considered undetermined by the US Government; portions of the regions Guelmim-Es Smara and Laayoune-Boujdour-Sakia El Hamra, as claimed by Morocco, lie within Western Sahara; Morocco also claims Oued Eddahab-Lagouira, another region that falls entirely within Western Sahara
Suffrage:
none; (residents of Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara participate in Moroccan elections)
Executive branch:
none
Political pressure groups and leaders:
Polisario Front
International organization participation:
AU, CAN (observer), WFTU (NGOs)
Diplomatic representation in the US:
none
Diplomatic representation from the US:
none

Economy

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. However, following King MOHAMMED VI’s November 2015 visit to Western Sahara, the Government of Morocco announced a series of investments aimed at spurring economic activity in the region, while the General Confederation of Moroccan Enterprises announced a $609 million investment initiative in the region in March 2015.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$906.5 million (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 204
GDP (official exchange rate):
$NA
GDP - real growth rate:
NA%
GDP - per capita (PPP):
$2,500 (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 198
GDP - composition, by sector of origin:
agriculture: NA%
industry: NA%
services: 40% (2007 est.)
Agriculture - products:
fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases); camels, sheep, goats (kept by nomads); fish
Industries:
phosphate mining, handicrafts
Industrial production growth rate:
NA%
Labor force:
144,000 (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 178
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture: 50%
industry and services: 50% (2005 est.)
Unemployment rate:
NA%
Population below poverty line:
NA%
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
Budget:
revenues: $NA
expenditures: $NA
Taxes and other revenues:
NA%
Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-):
NA%
Fiscal year:
calendar year
Inflation rate (consumer prices):
NA%
Exports:
$NA
Exports - commodities:
phosphates 62% (2012 est.)
Imports:
$NA
Imports - commodities:
fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
Debt - external:
$NA
Exchange rates:
Moroccan dirhams (MAD) per US dollar -
9.7787 (2016)
9.7351 (2015)
9.7351 (2014 est.)
8.3798 (2013 est.)
8.6 (2012 est.)

Energy

Electricity - production:
0 kWh (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 220
Electricity - consumption:
0 kWh (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 219
Electricity - exports:
0 kWh (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 216
Electricity - imports:
0 kWh (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 218
Electricity - installed generating capacity:
58,000 kW (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 189
Electricity - from fossil fuels:
100% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 2
Electricity - from nuclear fuels:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 210
Electricity - from hydroelectric plants:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 214
Electricity - from other renewable sources:
0% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 170
Crude oil - production:
0 bbl/day (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 213
Crude oil - exports:
0 bbl/day (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 212
Crude oil - imports:
0 bbl/day (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 212
Crude oil - proved reserves:
0 bbl (1 January 2017 es)
country comparison to the world: 213
Refined petroleum products - production:
0 bbl/day (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 214
Refined petroleum products - consumption:
1,700 bbl/day (2015 est.)
country comparison to the world: 196
Refined petroleum products - exports:
0 bbl/day (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 214
Refined petroleum products - imports:
1,702 bbl/day (2014 est.)
country comparison to the world: 190
Natural gas - production:
0 cu m (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 213
Natural gas - consumption:
0 cu m (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 148
Natural gas - exports:
0 cu m (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 211
Natural gas - imports:
0 cu m (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 210
Natural gas - proved reserves:
0 cu m (1 January 2014 es)
country comparison to the world: 208
Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy:
300,000 Mt (2013 est.)
country comparison to the world: 196

Communications

Telephone system:
general assessment: sparse and limited system
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 (2015)
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:
.eh

Transportation

Airports:
6 (2013)
country comparison to the world: 174
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)

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

Economic Indicators for Western Sahara including actual values, historical data, and latest data updates for the Western Sahara economy.