Of course, there are enormous potentials of the blue economy for Bangladesh. Indeed, the Bay of Bengal covers a vast area and has different types of living and non-living resources. The ministry of foreign affairs identified twenty-six blue economy sectors in Bangladesh including fisheries, marine trade and shipping, tourism, and energy. Oceans and seas contribute to poverty eradication by creating sustainable livelihoods, provide food and minerals, provide crucial linkages in international trade and regulate global climate and weather patterns. Of course, the marine sector was developed immediately after the independence but Bangladesh put more focus on the development of the blue economy, which usually refers to the economy that is based on the sea, since the resolution of the maritime disputes with Myanmar in 2012 and with India in 2014.
It is notable that the concept of the blue economy that was introduced by Gunter Pauli in his book “The Blue Economy: 10 years, 100 innovations, 100 million jobs” in 2010 was emphasized at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, has been presented subsequently in many fora and is viewed as an alternative economic model for sustainable development which puts the oceans at the center of this approach. This concept goes beyond viewing the ocean economy that is mainly rendered as a mechanism for economic growth. It aims at the improvement of human wellbeing and social equity, along with the significant reduction of environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Of course, the developing world has been the driving force behind the blue economy, pioneered by small island developing states, but it is also relevant to other coastal states and other countries that have an interest in waters beyond their national jurisdiction. The worldwide blue economy is valued at more than US$1.5 trillion per year.
It is undeniable that the blue economy that fosters economic growth, betterment of livelihoods and job creation contributes much to the overall development of Bangladesh, which has a high population density and the scarcity of land-based resources. As it appears, Bangladesh’s economy annually derives from the ocean more than US dollar 6 billion. In the financial year 2014-15, the gross national value of the ocean economy was more than 6 billion US dollars that are 3.3 percent of the total gross national value of the country. Of course, around 90 percent of the trade is done by sea and, approximately, millions of people are employed in the fisheries and other blue economy sectors. Besides, many people depend on the sea for food security and nutrition.
Provided that Bangladesh can utilize or develop its blue economy in a sustainable manner, there is no doubt that the contribution of the blue economy will be much more to the overall development in terms of economic growth, poverty alleviation, ensuring food and nutrition security, and combating the impacts of climate change. As is predicted, blue resources can contribute to 4 percent of GDP. But the country has thus far explored only a small number of blue economy sub-sectors such as fisheries and aquaculture, shipbuilding, ship-breaking, salt generation and port facilities. Even if the settlement of disputes has given the right to explore resources within 118,813 square kilometers of the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh has, moreover, not yet seized the opportunity.
Of course, Bangladesh has in the meantime took some remarkable initiatives for the development of its blue economy. As a major blue economy initiative, the Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, which aims at sustainable delta management, integrated water resources management and adaptation to climate change within the next 100 years, was adopted in 2018. Besides, the seventh Five-Year Plan called for numerous actions to be undertaken for maintaining a sustainable blue economy which includes renewable energy, fisheries, tourism, climate change, human resource and many others. Moreover, Bangladesh is already making investments to increase its capacity to more effectively and efficiently manage marine resources and the Energy and Mineral Resources Division of the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources formed an administrative cell called the “Blue Economy Cell” in 2017, but there hasn’t been any real progress except some discussion meetings.
To the development of the blue economy as desired, there are diverse challenges. Challenges are policy-related, institutional and management-based, infrastructural and others. Some notable challenges are lack of a policy directly on the blue economy, inadequate implementation or enforcement mechanisms of measures, scarcity of resource persons at the ministry or department level, a lack of marine friendly infrastructure for marine tourism, scant efforts to sufficiently protecting mangrove forests, a lack of investment-friendly environment, inadequate initiatives for protecting coastal bio-diversity and addressing environmental change, insufficient efforts to managing carbon discharge, inadequate inter-ministerial coordination, land-based and ship-borne marine pollution, inadequate capacity to maximize the use of blue resources, unsustainable extraction, destruction of marine and coastal habitats, climate change and sea-level rise, marine pollution and lack of adequate focus on extra-regional players. Even though such challenges do not similarly put hindrances, these put considerable barriers to the desired development of the blue economy of the country.
It is, thus, undeniable that further efforts are needed for addressing the above challenges to the development of the blue economy. In this respect, the formulation of a broad-based ocean or blue economy policy is very important. Indeed, a well-formulated policy made by a coordinated process involving a range of ministries relevant to the blue economy may help much to secure the sea-based resources and the development of the blue economy of the country as desired. The policy should aim at the sustainable development of the blue economy to its fullest potential with the consideration of diverse aspects such as marine fisheries, aquaculture, marine biotechnology, offshore energy and deep-sea mining, marine tourism and leisure, shipping, port and maritime logistics, shipbuilding, marine manufacturing and ship recycling and marine renewable energy.
Of course, more emphasis on the exploration and exploitation of diverse living and non-living marine resources, the maintenance of ecosystem integrity, increased coordination among relevant ministries, an increase of capacity on diverse fronts including the capacity of mechanized and industrialized boats for catching fish, putting emphasis on research and experience-based knowledge, more investment on sea-based energy resources, the encouragement of the marine industry to play a greater role in the economy, improving ocean governance (which requires the participation of governmental institutions, private sectors, non-government organizations, academics, scientists and other stakeholders), and the conservation of marine biological diversity are undeniably very important for the sustainable utilization of blue resources.
Not less important is that the development of the blue economy as desired requires increased links with other counties especially for the development of capacity on various fronts including the searching and extraction of oil, gas, minerals and other non-living blue resources. Furthermore, Bangladesh needs to cautiously ensure cooperation from other countries in order to protect its oceans from the negative impact of climate change and pollution. Of course, all efforts should take the sustainability aspect into consideration so that not only the present but also the future generations can get benefits from the blue economy as desired. In fact, blue resources are rendered to be very precious and these should not be viewed as something to be haphazardly exploited.