Western Sahara PEOPLE 2017

Western Sahara PEOPLE 2017

Page last updated on January 12, 2017

note: estimate is based on projections by age, sex, fertility, mortality, and migration; fertility and mortality are based on data from neighboring countries (July 2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 171
[see also: Population country ranks ]

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

Ethnic groups:
Arab, Berber

Standard Arabic (national), Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic


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: 37.54% (male 111,389/female 108,958)
[see also: Age structure 0-14 years country ranks ]
15-24 years: 19.57% (male 57,855/female 57,049)
[see also: Age structure 15-24 years country ranks ]
25-54 years: 34.14% (male 98,659/female 101,733)
[see also: Age structure 25-54 years country ranks ]
55-64 years: 4.95% (male 13,552/female 15,490)
[see also: Age structure 55-64 years country ranks ]
65 years and over: 3.8% (male 9,823/female 12,512) (2016 est.)
[see also: Age structure 65 years and over country ranks ]
population pyramid:
A population pyramid illustrates the age and sex structure of a country's population and may provide insights about political and social stability, as well as economic development. The population is distributed along the horizontal axis, with males shown on the left and females on the right. The male and female populations are broken down into 5-year age groups represented as horizontal bars along the vertical axis, with the youngest age groups at the bottom and the oldest at the top. The shape of the population pyramid gradually evolves over time based on fertility, mortality, and international migration trends.

For additional information, please see the entry for Population pyramid on the Definitions and Notes page under the References tab.

Dependency ratios:
total dependency ratio: 40.2%
[see also: Dependency ratios - total dependency ratio country ranks ]
youth dependency ratio: 36.1%
[see also: Dependency ratios - youth dependency ratio country ranks ]
elderly dependency ratio: 4.1%
[see also: Dependency ratios - elderly dependency ratio country ranks ]
potential support ratio: 24.4% (2015 est.)
[see also: Dependency ratios - potential support ratio country ranks ]

Median age:
total: 21.1 years
[see also: Median age - total country ranks ]
male: 20.7 years
[see also: Median age - male country ranks ]
female: 21.6 years (2016 est.)
[see also: Median age - female country ranks ]
country comparison to the world: 182

Population growth rate:
2.76% (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 12
[see also: Population growth rate country ranks ]

Birth rate:
29.8 births/1,000 population (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 42
[see also: Birth rate country ranks ]

Death rate:
8.2 deaths/1,000 population (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 88
[see also: Death rate country ranks ]

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

urban population: 80.9% of total population (2015)
[see also: Urbanization - urban population country ranks ]
rate of urbanization: 3.27% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)
[see also: Urbanization - rate of urbanization country ranks ]

Major urban areas - population:
Laayoune 262,000 (2014)

Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
[see also: Sex ratio - at birth country ranks ]
0-14 years: 1.02 male(s)/female
[see also: Sex ratio - 0-14 years country ranks ]
15-24 years: 1.01 male(s)/female
[see also: Sex ratio - 15-24 years country ranks ]
25-54 years: 0.97 male(s)/female
[see also: Sex ratio - 25-54 years country ranks ]
55-64 years: 0.87 male(s)/female
[see also: Sex ratio - 55-64 years country ranks ]
65 years and over: 0.78 male(s)/female
[see also: Sex ratio - 65 years and over country ranks ]
total population: 0.99 male(s)/female (2016 est.)

Infant mortality rate:
total: 53.3 deaths/1,000 live births
[see also: Infant mortality rate - total country ranks ]
male: 58.1 deaths/1,000 live births
[see also: Infant mortality rate - male country ranks ]
female: 48.2 deaths/1,000 live births (2016 est.)
[see also: Infant mortality rate - female country ranks ]
country comparison to the world: 27

Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 63 years
[see also: Life expectancy at birth - total country ranks ]
male: 60.7 years
[see also: Life expectancy at birth - male country ranks ]
female: 65.4 years (2016 est.)
[see also: Life expectancy at birth - female country ranks ]
country comparison to the world: 191

Total fertility rate:
3.93 children born/woman (2016 est.)
country comparison to the world: 38
[see also: Total fertility rate country ranks ]

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
[see also: HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate country ranks ]

HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
[see also: HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS country ranks ]

HIV/AIDS - deaths:
[see also: HIV/AIDS - deaths country ranks ]

NOTE: The information regarding Western Sahara on this page is re-published from the 2017 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Western Sahara PEOPLE 2017 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Western Sahara PEOPLE 2017 should be addressed to the CIA.

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This page was last modified 22-Feb-17
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