Welcome to Awsard, a small village southeast of the Moroccan-governed part of Western Sahara. The closest drinking water well is 12 miles away. Add another 160 miles to get to the first reasonably-supplied food market. A five minute walk, however, will take you to a massive Moroccan army base and United Nations mission site.
Nestled among a stunning mountain range, Awsard is a place of natural shelter and reliable water sources, which explains why it has remained inhabited despite its remoteness. It’s a historical site, where numerous archaeological remains have been found, including tumuli that pre-date the Islamic conquest of the Sahara, as well as prehistoric rock engravings and monolithic monuments.
The urban planning of Awsard looks good – on paper. Photo by Damjan Vrencur.
Surrounded by minefields, Awsard is located 12 miles from a huge sand barrier, the Moroccan wall. It’s the longest continuous minefield on Earth. On this side, Morocco. On the other, a zone controlled by the Polisario front, a Sahrawi rebel liberation movement. A restricted area runs along the berm, patrolled by United Nations units.
Still, daily life in Awsard does not differ significantly from other desert villages across the Sahara. Empty streets, soulless buildings painted in shades of sand. Only the wind, tirelessly sweeping the desert, brings echoes of faraway sounds. The rattling of a helicopter, the brakes of a delivery truck, chants from the army base. From time to time, an explosion. The precious proof that life continues to exist here, in Awsard, a village at the edge.