Severe water shortages in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic may become less frequent due to a Venezuelan government initiative to provide training to Sahrawi technicians.
SADR claims sovereignty over the entire territory of Western Sahara, most of which is occupied by Morocco. SADR administers about 20% of Western Sahara.
On February 14, the Venezuelan environment ministry said 10 technicians from SADR will be trained in hydro-geology and drilling at Venezuela’s National Hydraulics Laboratory.
The ministry said this would provide better access to drinking water in the refugee camps run by the Sahrawi liberation group, the Polisario Front. It added it would, “strike a blow to the neoliberal policies of imperialism”.
Australian Unions for Western Sahara spokesperson Georgia Vlassopoulos congratulated the “Venezuela government for being part of the solution to the Western Sahara refugee water problem”.
However, Vlassopoulos told Green Left Weekly that developed nations such as Australia need to take a more proactive role in aiding SADR's 100,000-150,000 refugees. Most of the refugees have been living in camps deep in the Sahara since being driven from their homes by Morocco in the 1970s.
The refugee camps suffer regular shortages of water due to a lack of donations from aid agencies. In February last year, Mohamedali, a community leader in Smara Camp, told GLW that water is the “big thing we need here”.
At the time, refugees in Smara Camp only had access to water for a few hours each day, meaning that they had to exercise extreme vigilance with water consumption; especially during summer, when temperatures can exceed 50 degrees Celsius.
Mohamedali also said that water shipments sometimes arrive late.
According to Vlassopoulos, a permanent solution to the water distribution problem needs to be found.
“Water is trucked in from a distance that would be more suitably piped underground to the camps. Although the refugee camps are temporary, 37 years have past with no end in sight,” she told GLW.
To supplement water from aid agencies, the Sahrawi have dug dozens of bores in the desert.
In exchange for training technicians in hydro-geology and drilling, Sahrawi will assist Venezuelan technicians in studying groundwater in the desert environment.
The Venezuelan states of Falcon, Zulia and Lara all contain arid regions, where Sahrawi's experience in the Sahara may be useful to Venezuelan authorities.
Morocco has occupied most of Western Sahara since 1975 following Spanish decolonisation. In 1979, the United Nations General Assembly recognised Western Sahara's right to independence, and the Polisario Front as the representative of the Sahrawi people.
Venezuela is among 53 nations that recognise SADR sovereignty. In 2009, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said: “We support and we will always support the ... cause of the freedom of the Sahrawi people.
“We have to show the world solidarity and respect for Sahrawi independence. We have to help these people so that they can live every day better and reach their complete independence.”
In 2011, Venezuela provided US$1 million in funding to the first high school in the refugee camps. Later that year, Venezuela's ambassador to the UN Jorge Valero spoke out for the need to ensure Western Sahara could exercise its right to self-determination.
Australia, on the other hand, formally acknowledges Western Sahara's right to self-determination, but does not recognise SADR.