The World Bank (WB) has granted a fund of US$200 million for exploring the potential of the Blue Economy. This is obviously good news for Bangladesh.
The Blue Economy conceptualises oceans and seas as 'Development Spaces' where spatial planning integrates conservation, sustainable use of living resources, oil and mineral wealth extraction, bio-prospecting, sustainable energy production and marine transport.
The global multilateral lender has already been helping a survey in the Bay of Bengal and offshore areas under a technical assistance (TA) project. The Bank will provide another fund worth Tk 99 million for study on the offshore turfs for spotting the potential of the Blue Economy in the Bay.
The WB consultants are expected to study the potential of the country's untapped Blue Economy in areas like fisheries, tourism, oil and mineral resources. Thereafter, they will prepare a development project proposal (DPP). The WB has a lot of expertise in the field. Its experts and consultants are set to give a clear picture of the country's potential in the Bay.
Bangladesh established its sovereign rights on maritime territory through winning legal battles against neighbouring Myanmar and India. The country won more than 118,813 square-kilometres of waters comprising territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone extending to 200 nautical miles (370km) through the judgement of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea on March 14, 2012. The same way, on July 07, 2014 a United Nations tribunal awarded Bangladesh 19,467 sq. km of the 25,602 sq. km sea area of the Bay of Bengal.
The government has since been trying to woo local private sector businesses to invest in oil and gas exploration, especially in deep sea. There is a proposal that, if someone wants to drill a well by investing some $150 million to $200 million, the government will take some stake in that bid to lower the entrepreneur's risks.
In view of the geological structure of soil in the Bay, there are possibilities of finding huge non-living resources within Bangladesh maritime zone. Co-littoral country Myanmar, to mention, is well ahead of Bangladesh in exploration of non-living resources in the sea.
The government apparently believes sustainable development of ocean resources is the key to prosperity. Yet, what is worrying is that the oceans all over the world are at risk now, from over-fishing, marine pollution, and climate change.
Bangladesh needs to be further equipped in terms of policy, technological development, and capacities to tap the emerging opportunities in the Blue Economy regime. Concerned agencies should give priority on building substantial marine science and technological capacity.
There is a need for expansion of international maritime cooperation and diplomacy to develop an inter-departmental master plan along with a long-term perspective plan. The marine ecological system protection measures are also vital to attract new local and foreign investment.
There is no denying that the synergy of Blue Economy and global economic expansion is evolving by utilising sea-bed resources. It is opening diverse opportunities in the areas of renewable ocean energy, aquaculture, deep seabed explorations, marine biotechnology, seaports, shipping and coastal tourism.
The total maritime boundary of the country is about 81 per cent of entire land area which is really big and stressed for skilled workforce to tap the potential of blue economy. The government has instructed universities in Bangladesh to teach Oceanography in order to create skilled manpower and do research works. The country has to pay $6.0 billion per year as freight charge which they can save by investing in shipbuilding industry.
Some 70 per cent trade and 30 million people of Bangladesh are dependent on ocean fishery, seafood and commercial transportation. The Blue Economy has been endorsed in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) which also rationalises more investment.
According to a study, Bangladesh is lagging far behind other countries in harnessing deep-sea resources. One of every six jobs in the United States is marine-related while one-third of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) originates in the coastal areas.
The Bay has offered Bangladesh the opportunity to develop shipping industry, too, which can contribute greatly to the country's GDP. The country has the third-largest ship-breaking industry in the world.
In fact, overcoming the challenges and sustainable development of marine resources holds the key to global economic growth. As of today, many nations are trying to solve the over-fishing problem and preserve the oceans. Bangladesh should join such efforts.
Meantime, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has expressed her resolve to turn the Bay of Bengal into a hub for sustainable economic development and thus the prosperity of the country and detailed out her plan to harness the marine resources sustainably.
The Prime Minister reaffirmed Bangladesh's commitment to conservation and balanced development of natural resources keeping integrity of environmental and biodiversity aspects while pursuing the must-needed development for the people of country. She also called upon the regional and international communities to come up with pragmatic strategies and perspectives towards development of Blue Economy.
The development of a Blue Economy demands new partnerships among stakeholders within and across countries, regions, sub-regions, international agencies and the private sector to facilitate greater flows of expertise, finance, and capacity to effectively close the gap in sustainable management of both fisheries and non-living sea resources.
Partnerships and collaboration are needed in both public and private sectors, at national and regional levels, to steer a sustainable Blue Economy in Asia with special recognition of the needs of developing countries, and in line with existing global, regional and local commitments.