Exploring blue economy    

Wasi Ahmed       | Published: April 03, 2018 22:15:14


Following the settlement of maritime disputes with Myanmar and India in December 2013 and in July 2014 respectively, the government has been in merriment for too long a time as though it were an accomplishment in itself and not what it should have been -- a horizon waiting to be explored and exploited with well planned policies and actions. There were talks from well-informed quarters suggesting the government to get started with what they said 'unlocking the blue economy potentials'.

Unfortunately, this has not happened. Up until now, there has not been any discernible move forward except for a small 'cell' set up under the Energy Division of the government. The cell -- Blue Economy Cell (BEC) -- was set up on a temporary basis under the Energy Division, according to reports. The BEC remains a small organ headed by a director general with only a few officials and employees appointed on a temporary basis.

Terming it a frustrating situation, energy experts have said that this is because of the government's lack of interest in exploration of resources including oil, gas and fisheries in the Bay. They stressed the need for multi-client seismic survey in offshore areas. Without acquiring seismic data, according to them, it is impossible to make any assessment of our share of the resources in the Bay of Bengal.

It may be recalled that Bangladesh got 19,467 square kilometres out of the 25,602 sq km disputed area from Indian claimed area in the Bay. In addition, the country sustained a claim to 200 nautical miles for exclusive economic zone and territorial rights in the Bay against Myanmar's claim. But things have not moved noticeably farther in terms of preparations, and needless to say, the subject demanding high level of expertise should have been left to experts to suggest how to go about it. The government reportedly formed a 25-member 'Coordination Committee on Sea Resources Exploration and Fair Management' headed by Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister's Office around four years ago for taking up strategic planning in this regard. The committee, comprising top government officials and representatives from relevant organisations, was supposed to sit every three months, but it is not known whether it framed any framework for strategies. On the other hand, the BEC too could not make any worthwhile move due mainly to manpower constraints.

Of late, there are talks of setting up a blue economy authority to deal with the massive development activities required in this regard in a planned way. Experts opine that moving ahead methodically and meaningfully could generate businesses worth $40 billion in the coming days from untapped sea resources.

The issue came up strongly at a recently held meeting organised by the Bangladesh-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BMCCI). The keynote paper presented at the meeting by Rear Admiral (retd) Khurshed Alam on the challenges and opportunities of blue economy in Bangladesh emphasised the urgent need of an well-empowered authority for methodical exploration of the sea resources and pointed out that globally blue economy has resources worth $24 trillion, but so far only around $3.0 trillion worth of resources has been utilised. The paper highlighted many sectors of the economy that can immensely benefit from the marine resources. These include -- fisheries, mineral resources, pharmaceuticals, transportation, energy, foods, health and tourism etc. The paper mentioned that the country's expanded sea area is almost 81 per cent compared with the size of the entire mainland. It added that 'the country has a total of 660 km-long sea boundary, but the fishing vessels cannot catch fish beyond 70 km. It means we've no access in (to) almost 600 km. That's why fishing vessels from India and Myanmar often come to catch fishes from our territory. Not only that, our fishing net cannot go below 200 feet of water, whereas the high-valued fishes like Tuna and Swordfish are available in the deep water.'

In this connection, it may be mentioned that the issue of setting up a blue economy authority in the country is not new. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Power, Energy and Mineral Resources suggested formation of such an authority sometime ago by enacting a law for exploration and extraction of marine resources.

Experts strongly support the suggestion because besides putting in place a general framework of activities including implementation and monitoring, a high level body such as the blue economy authority is the appropriate agency to specifically outline proper business modules for investors in a planned way.

As of now, it seems there is a dearth of sufficient motivation for the government to move ahead. Academics in the field consider it a great opportunity for students and researchers to be made use of. But if the government, for strange reasons, keeps its pace too unhurried and casual, there is nothing likely to emerge from the prolonged celebration of the 'oceanic victory'.

wasiahmed.bd@gmail.com

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