Economy of Western Sahara

The majority of the territory of Western Sahara – the Southern Provinces – is currently administered by the Kingdom of Morocco. As such, the majority of the economic activity of Western Sahara happens in the framework of the economy of Morocco.

Economy of Western Sahara
CurrencyMoroccan Dirham (MAD) de facto
calendar year
Trade organisations
Morocco claims and administers most of Western Sahara, so trade partners are included in overall Moroccan accounts. The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic laying claim to the territory has ratified AEC treaty, but is not active;
GDP$908.9 million (2007 est)
GDP per capita
2,500 (2007 est)
Labour force
144,000 (2012)
Labour force by occupation
agriculture (50%), services (50%)
Main industries
Phosphates, fishing
Export goods
phosphates 62%
Import goods
fuel for fishing fleet, foodstuffs
Public finances

All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.
Bou Craa phosphate mine 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) from the coastal city of El Aaiún, Western Sahara. Two Landsat images show growth of the mine between 1987 and 2000.

In the Moroccan-administered territory, fishing and phosphate mining are the principal sources of income for the population.[1] The territory lacks sufficient rainfall for sustainable agricultural production;[2] hence, most of the food for the urban population must be imported. Trade and other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan government.[1]

The Free Zone (POLISARIO-administered territory) is mainly uninhabited. There is practically no economical infrastructure and the main activity is camel herding nomadism. The government-in-exile of the Polisario Front had also signed contracts for oil exploration,[3] but there is no practical work, due to the fact that the zones given are in the Moroccan-controlled part of the territory.

Key agricultural products from Western Sahara include fruits and vegetables (grown in the few oases) as well as camels, sheep, goats and kept by nomads.[1] Fishing and oil exploration contracts concerning Western Sahara are sources of political tension.[4][5][6]

Energy consumption

  • Electricity – production: 0 (all estimates are for 2015)[1]
  • Electricity – consumption: 0[1]
  • Oil – production: 0 barrels per day (0 m3/d)[1]
  • Oil – consumption: 1,700 barrels per day (270 m3/d)[1]

Disputes over natural resources

Fishing and oil exploration contracts concerning Western Sahara are sources of political tension.[4][5][6] In 2015, a European court invalidated a trade deal between the European Union (EU) and Morocco that involved Western Sahara, prompting a diplomatic backlash from Morocco.[7] In 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that a fishing treaty between the EU and the Moroccan government did not include fishing grounds off the coast of Western Sahara.[8] In April 2010, the Norwegian state-owned salmon company EWOS stopped the purchases of fish oil from Western Sahara and Morocco (with an amount of around 10 million euros annually, and estimated between 12,000 and 20,000 tons of fish oil in total),[9] for "not being in line with the Norwegian authorities' recommendations".[10]

In 2002, the petroleum companies Total S.A. and Kerr-McGee were awarded contracts to explore for oil in the region.[6] In December 2004, French oil company Total S.A. decided not to renew their license off Western Sahara.[11] In May 2006, Kerr-McGee decided to not renew the contract signed with the Moroccan Authorities.[12] The US-based firm Kosmos Energy began a contract to explore offshore from Western Sahara in 2013, prompting criticism from activist groups such as Western Sahara Resource Watch.[6] Desertec, a Munich-based solar energy company, declined to place a plant in Western Sahara for "reputational reasons."[13]

See also


  1. The World Factbook. United States Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed April 27, 2018.
  2. "Western Sahara". CIA World Factbook. Archived from the original on 12 June 2007. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  4. "The Battle for West Africa's Fish". BBC News. 1 August 2001. Accessed 27 April 2018.
  5. Lewis, Aidan. "Morocco's fish fight: High stakes over Western Sahara". BBC News. 15 December 2011. Accessed 27 April 2018.
  6. Harris, Bryant. "U.S. Oil Firm Creates Tension over Western Sahara". Inter Press Service. 11 May 2014. Accessed 27 April 2018.
  7. Dudley, Dominic. "Morocco Steps Up Diplomatic Pressure On US And Europe Over Western Sahara Occupation". Forbes. 19 May 2016. Accessed 27 April 2018.
  8. Dudley, Dominic. "European Court Rules Against Morocco Again, Barring Western Sahara's Waters From EU Fisheries Deal". Forbes. 27 February 2018. Accessed 27 April 2018.
  9. "EWOS avslutter kjøp av fiskeolje fra Marokko og Vest-Sahara" (in Norwegian). EWOS. 9 April 2010. Archived from the original on 10 July 2011. Retrieved 2 September 2010.
  10. "Gir etter for laksepress". Dagbladet (in Norwegian). 10 April 2010. Retrieved 2 September 2010.
  11. "Upstream Online: Total turns its back on Dakhla block, 2004". Western Sahara Resource Watch. 3 December 2004. Retrieved 2 September 2010.
  12. "Last oil company withdraws from Western Sahara". Afrol News. 2 May 2006. Retrieved 1 October 2010.
  13. Maung, Zara (23 April 2010). "Solar giant Desertec to avoid Western Sahara". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2 September 2010.
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