With a huge exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh has the opportunities to explore untapped resources like oil & gas and fisheries, and use the potential of expanding tourism and trade in the coming days.
The third conference of the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) held in Dhaka on November 4-5, re-emphasised the urgency and importance to find ways to utilise the Indian Ocean to its best use for the socio-economic development of the peoples belonging to the region. Since its inception in 1995, the organisation brings together representatives of the 24 member states, businesses and experts to promote cooperation and interaction to reap the benefit of the 'Blue Economy'.
The Indian Ocean belt plays a crucial role in global economy, particularly in sea-borne trade in oil. About 100,000 commercial vessels use the water body each year.
The IORA conference in Dhaka bore special importance to Bangladesh. Two verdicts on maritime boundary delimitation, delivered in recent years, have ensured that Bangladesh has secured an area of 19,467 square kilometres in the Bay of Bengal as its exclusive economic zone. The huge untapped water area is an opportunity as well as a challenge for Bangladesh.
In respect to ocean exploration, the term "Blue Economy" has become important. The World Bank identifies "Blue Economy" as the sustainable use of resources from oceans for economic growth, better living standards and employment while maintaining a healthy ecosystem. The vastness of research, activities and financial capacity required for exploration of the ocean have made it expensive for countries to maximise the benefit of the Blue Economy.
The priority areas of IORA such as maritime security, trade and investment, fisheries management, disaster risk reduction, academic and scientific knowledge sharing, tourism development and cultural exchange can help Bangladesh explore and develop its vast sea areas.
Bangladesh has been elected IORA Vice-Chair for 2019-21 and is slated to become its Chair for 2021-23 year. Dhaka can take this opportunity to enhance the country's capacity for Blue Economy development.
The Dhaka Declaration adopted in the two-day conference laid emphasis on 'Marine Spatial Planning'. This will be used as a tool to develop marine value chains that recognise oceanic resources as a means to attain sustainable development.
Inaugurating the conference Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called upon the IORA member countries to build a unified sustainable blue economic belt to make best sustainable use of the untapped resources of the sea. She also hoped that the cooperation between IORA member countries will enhance in the future.
If Bangladesh is able to maximise its use of its sea, it will be a great boon for the country. The government has formed Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University, initiated inter-ministerial cooperation and joined international bodies to tap the potential of Bay of Bengal. The country also needs to develop the Chattogram port and connect it with land to enhance commercial activities.
Efficient manpower, fishing, technical knowhow, and enhanced deep sea exploration capacity will strengthen the country's capacity to use its marine resources efficiently. In this regard the IORA can help Bangladesh technically to attain the desired maritime development.
Syeda Afsana is a freelance writer.