Algeria — Ghali Zbeir lived most of his life as a refugee in this desert camp, knowing little more than his people’s poverty, hunger and despair. It wasn’t until he moved to Russia for advanced study in geology that he learned he should have been a rich man.
“Everyone told me, ‘You are from Western Sahara, you have all the minerals, you have all the phosphate,’” Zbeir said last month, sitting in a refugee camp conference room lit only by a ray of desert sun.
Morocco claims 75 percent of the planet's known reserves of phosphorus, an essential ingredient in commercial fertilizer. That gives the North African country a near-monopoly on the multibillion-dollar global trade of the mineral mined from phosphate rock, with clients on every continent.
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