As its name suggests, Western Sahara is a sparsely-populated area of mostly desert located on the northwest coast of Africa. It is considered disputed territory with 20% of its land claimed by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (self-proclaimed as such), and the remaining 80% by neighboring Morocco. A buffer strip, or “berm” with landmines and fortifications, stretches the length of the disputed territory and separates the Moroccan-administered western portion from the eastern area controlled by the Polisario Front.
The indigenous population is usually known as Sahrawis, but they are also referred to as “Southern Berbers”. They have mixed Berber-Arab heritage and are traditionally nomadic Bedouins with a lifestyle very similar to that of the Tuareg Berbers from whom they are believed to have descended. The region is home to phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds off its coast, and is also believed to have as yet untapped offshore oil deposits.