- Lowest point: Sebjet Tah, 55 meters below sea level
- Natural resources: fisheries, phosphate, iron ore ; several international companies have been looking for oil.
Climate and environment
Most of Western Sahara consists of flat, rocky desert, although some areas have mountains and/or sand dunes. The interior of the country consists of a high plateau, 500–800 meters above sea level, which is dissected by a network of wadis.
The coast is also mainly desert, with a fairly straight coastline without islands, headlands and bays, but with beach spurs running out from the coast. Within the coastline are a number of coastal lakes.
The inland bedrock mainly consists of granites, formed during the Precambrian. The coastal area consists mostly of sedimentary rocks. In the north are sandstone formations, formed during the Paleozoic and Mesozoic.
Parts of the area have previously been the seabed, and are therefore covered with fossils. The vegetation is very sparse and mainly consists of hardy trees and bushes, which spread after rain. Animal life is mainly limited to small animals and birds.
As a country starting with letter W according to Countryaah, Western Sahara has a hot and dry desert climate where rain is rare. Cold sea winds produce fog and heavy dew. During winter and spring, the hot, dry, sand-saturated sirocco wind can occur, and the harmattan wind, which is also sand-saturated, blows 60% of the time.
Western Sahara’s environmental problems include a lack of fresh water and a lack of arable land, but Western Saharans and international groups also warn of rapid overfishing of Western Sahara’s waters by Moroccan and European fishing fleets. In the southern part of Western Sahara near Dahla, there are also large greenhouse facilities for vegetables, which are irrigated from underground lakes that cause water shortages. The Moroccan exploitation of natural resources, fishing and vegetable crops, is eating away at nature.
All electricity has previously been produced from fossil fuels, but since 2017 wind and solar power installations have been built with the primary purpose of providing the Bou Craa phosphate mine and the Moroccan occupation arm access to motive power.
Large areas of the desert are impassable due to landmines, multiple bombs and unexploded ordnance, left over from the war or part of the Moroccan wall that divides the country in two.
Governance and politics
Morocco’s right to the Western Sahara is thus not recognized by the UN and the international community, but Morocco has nevertheless divided the area into regions in the same way as in Morocco. In the north ( Guelmim-Es-Smara region ), these regions run into southern Morocco, which means that from the Moroccan side there is no clear border line between Morocco and Western Sahara. Western Sahara’s own division is in the provinces of Boujdour, Es Semara, Laayoune and Oued el Dahab.
The number of inhabitants for the whole of Western Sahara is uncertain. In the occupied part live both Western Saharans and Moroccan settlers and soldiers.
Western Sahara is rich in natural resources. Among other things, there is phosphate, iron, copper, uranium, rich fishing banks and probably oil. However, it is only phosphate that is currently extracted from the minerals.
In 2002, Morocco signed an agreement with an American and a French oil company to explore for oil in Western Saharan waters, which led to major protests. The UN’s then head of justice, the Swede Hans Corell, then commissioned a so-called “legal advise” to the Security Council. It says, among other things, that the exploitation of Western Saharan natural resources can only take place if the Western Saharans want it, and in that case to their advantage.
The profit from the exploitation and sale of phosphate, fish, sand and vegetable farms ends up mostly in Moroccan hands.
The main sources of income are fishing, phosphate and the nomads’ animal husbandry. Most of the food has to be imported. All trade and other economic activities are under the control of the Government of Morocco. Incomes and living standards in Western Sahara are significantly lower than in Morocco.
In July 2013, the EU Commission signed a new fishing agreement with Morocco, which meant that vessels from EU countries would be allowed to fish in the waters of the occupied Western Sahara. According to international law experts, this violates international law. Sweden has consistently voted against this and previous fisheries agreements between the EU and Morocco.
Western Sahara (herein refers to the State proclaimed by the Polisario Front (SADR)) has been recognized as an independent country by over 80 states, of which nearly half, however, have withdrawn their recognition. The African Union has recognized the SADR, which is a full member.
No country has recognized Morocco’s right to Western Sahara, but France supports Morocco politically, economically and militarily. The USA and Spain have also given political support to Morocco. The EU has long had a neighborhood agreement with Morocco and granted the country “advanced status” in 2008. Morocco receives major financial support from the EU. In 2006, a fisheries agreement was concluded between the EU and Morocco, where the fish-rich Western Saharan waters were not excluded. International human rights lawyers point out that this violates international law. Sweden was the only country that voted against the agreement. In 2011, the EU Parliament stopped an extension of the fishing agreement. However, a similar fisheries agreement was voted through by the EU Parliament in 2013.
The EU court has determined in four judgments that Morocco has no sovereignty over Western Sahara. According to the court decisions, the EU and Morocco have no right to enter into agreements that include Western Sahara. Despite this, the EU Commission has started negotiations on a trade agreement between the EU and Morocco that includes Western Sahara.
Western Sahara receives its greatest support from Algeria and other countries that have recognized the SADR.
Sweden believes that the UN should play a central role in efforts to resolve the conflict over Western Sahara, and that a solution should be based on international law and respect for the Western Sahara’s right to self-determination. Sweden has long been a donor to the Western Saharan refugee camps. In the EU’s agriculture and fisheries committee in 2006, Sweden was the only member state to vote no to a fisheries agreement between the EU and Morocco. Sweden considered that the agreement had shortcomings in terms of international law and that Western Saharan fishing waters should not be included in the agreement. Sweden made the same decision when a new fishing agreement was up for grabs in 2011.
In 2009, Brahim Dahane, one of Western Sahara’s most famous human rights activists, received the Per Anger award for having risked his own life through peaceful means in the fight for human rights.
In December 2012, a recommendation decision was made in the Riksdag that Sweden should recognize the Western Saharan state. The Social Democrats, the Green Party, the Left Party and the Sweden Democrats were behind the proposal. However, the Reinfeldt government was against recognition, referring to the criteria for recognition of states and thus went against the Riksdag’s decision. After the 2014 election, when the Social Democrats and the Green Party formed a government, Sweden was expected to be the first country in the EU to recognize the Western Saharan state. However, this did not happen and the government instead referred to its support of the UN peace process.
In 2019, Western Sahara activist and human rights defender Aminatou Haidar was awarded the Swedish Right Livelihood Prize, the so-called Alternative Nobel Prize.
Tindouf in Algeria
In connection with the invasion of Western Sahara by Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, tens of thousands of Western Saharans fled across the border into Algeria ‘s Tindouf Province, where they still live in refugee camps, in a barren but self-controlled desert area. Polisario’s headquarters were also moved there.
In 2018, the UNHCR stated in a report that 173,600 people live in the refugee camps.
The Western Saharan refugees are completely dependent on aid from the international community for their survival. New generations are born in the refugee camps. They live in an area of the Sahara desert that has never been inhabited before. Life is difficult with very hot summers (+50 degrees) and cold winter nights (0 degrees). The UN’s WFP (World Food Programme) and UNHCR organize parts of the aid, but the administration is handled by the Polisario Front. In the refugee camps, there is education for all children and young people for at least six years. For further studies, many continue to study in Algeria. Hospitals and care facilities are also found in the refugee camps, but there is a constant lack of most of these. In recent years, aid to the refugee camps has decreased. Many children suffer from protein deficiency.
Many Western Saharans also fled Morocco’s occupation to Mauritania. In 2015, it was estimated that around 26,000 Western Saharans lived there in refugee-like conditions, but without support from UNHCR.