Blue Economy and Its Prospect in Bangladesh By -A. R. Akash


Bangladesh is currently the 41th (nominal) world economy and three sectors are working as the moving tires of its economic growth. Apparel industries and Remittances with Agriculture are the main contributors of Bangladesh economy. However, Bangladesh is dreaming to upgrade its ranking on the list and is now aspiring to become a middle income country by 2021 as per the United Nations’ classification. In this context, it is very important to assess the capacity of the country’s economic infrastructure in achieving the desired level of economic growth rate and subsequently the targeted per capita income level. Without product diversification, Bangladesh will face difficulties to keep up its 6.5%+ annual GDP growth and fulfilling its dream of becoming a middle income country. Thus Bangladesh needs a new economic sector to gain financial leverage over its competitors. Blue Economy, a sustainable economic concept, in this context can unveil a wide horizon for the economic growth of Bangladesh. Bangladesh now has a total of 1, 21,110 square kilometers (sq km) of marine area including Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Bay of Bengal is the largest among 64 bays in the world and an estimated 1.4 billion people live along its coastline in Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Myanmar. Nearly 30 million people of Bangladesh are directly dependent on oceanic activities like fisheries and commercial transportation for their livelihood. So, promotion of blue economy will safeguard the interest of those coastal living inhabitants.Around 600 ships arrive in Bangladesh per year and anchor in the ports of Chittagong and Mongla. With this new opening of Blue Economy, a huge number of ships will anchor in the ports of Bangladesh, and earning from this sector is likely to increase rapidly.
Blue Economy as an idea was first introduced by Professor Gunter Pauli in 1994. It achieved large amount of attention only in recent 2012 Rio+20 Conference. Blue Economy in Bangladesh is often mistaken as only the economic activities which taken place on ocean. Certainly oceanic economic activities are integral parts of Blue Economy but not all kinds of oceanic activities and not only oceanic activities are Blue Economy. Twenty six maritime economic functions can be identified from among the fishery, maritime trade and shipping, energy, Tourism, coastal protection, maritime monitoring and surveillance as integral part of Blue Economy. Blue Economy as a philosophical economic movement acknowledges that some aspects of so-called “green living”, such as buying organic food and using certain forms of renewable energy, can be economically out of reach for large sections of the population. The primary goal of the Blue Economy is to identify examples in nature where organic recycling or up cycling occurs and mimic these processes to find out where and how the waste that we generate can be innovatively used again. In other words, Blue Economy can be equated with sustainable economy. Thus Blue Economy requires a balanced approach between conservation, development and utilization of marine and coastal eco-systems, all oceanic resources and services with a view to enhancing their value and decent employment, secure productive marine economy and healthy marine eco-systems. It is needless to say that for most developing States particularly for Bangladesh, making transition to Blue Economy would entail fundamental and systemic changes in their policy regulatory–management–governance framework(s) and identification of various maritime economic functions.
This systemic change in policy-regulatory –governance framework is justifiable for potential rapid economic growth. Transforming and accelerating economic activities in oceanic areas which are also known as “Development spaces”, Bangladesh can surely jump upward on the global economy list. Rear Admiral M. KhurshedAlam in one of his writings explained the whole potential. He wrote, “The objective of the Blue Economy initiative – the maritime pillar of the future strategy – is to promote smart, sustainable and inclusive growth and employment opportunities in Bangladesh’s maritime economic activities in the short, medium and long-term time frames. The Blue Economy initiative specifically aims to promote synergies and foster framework conditions that support specific maritime economic activities and their value chains. The extensive review and analysis of Blue Growth potential have confirmed the potential of the Blue Economy as an untapped resource.” Mr. Alam categorically mentioned 26 maritime activities to be recognized as the part of blue economy. This writer also agrees with this categorization. But explaining all those activities are beyond the capacity of this op-ed. However, few crucial ventures are discussed to project the prospect of Blue Economy in the context of Bangladesh.
Shipping and Port facilities are considered as the backbone of Blue Economy. 80 percent of global trade by volume, and over 70 per cent by value, is carried by sea and handled by ports worldwide. For developing countries, on a national basis, these percentages are typically higher. World seaborne trade grew by 4% in 2011, to 8.7 billion tons despite the global economic crisis and container traffic is projected to triple by 2030. Bangladesh as a coastal state needs to position itself in terms of facilities and capacities to cater for this growing trade and optimize their benefits. Shipping is the safest, most secure, most efficient and most environmentally sound means of bulk transportation – with declining rates of accidents, zero terrorist incidents, improving turnaround of ships and significant reductions in discharges to sea or emissions to air. More than 90% of the Bangladesh’s external freight trade is seaborne – and ongoing globalization has made this flow ever more important. Unfortunately there are only 74 registered (2014) Bangladeshi merchant ships which are not sufficient to carry even a fraction of our cargo.  Considering the average import growth rate of 15.79% (last 10 years) and export growth rate of 15.43% (last 10 years), projected freight value for next ten years would be around USD 435 billion. In order to retain parts of the USD 400 billion in the country, over the ten years, Bangladesh must facilitate local shipping companies to add more ships to the existing fleet, freight operators to establish freight services including container liner services to carry goods to/from Bangladesh using our own as well as chartered ships and freighters. Statistics reveals that economy of Bangladesh is heavily dependent on international trade where maritime ports play the key role of transporting 94% of our foreign trade. Bangladesh must enhance the existing handling capacities of ports and develop deep sea ports with more capabilities and modern handling equipments in Sonadia, Matarbari and Payra to cater for increased trade and commerce. Establishment of seaports can significantly reduce export lead times and earn steady flow of revenue for the country.
Fish accounts for 15.7% of the animal protein consumed globally. The value of fish traded by developing countries is estimated at U$$ 25 billion making it their largest single trade item. In 2009 marine capture production was 79 million tons.There are about 475 species of fish found in Bangladeshi EEZ compared to 250 species on land. Fish still provides the much needed protein of Bangladeshi people. About 57,000 artisanal mechanized and non-mechanized wooden boats and 200 industrial steel body trawlers are engaged in fishing in the coastal waters up to 60 km (within 40m depth) from Bangladeshi coastline having very limited capability in catching pelagic fishing-shoals closer to surface. A considerable amount of fish are salted and dried, mainly for human consumption. Incidentally, the use of dried fish as a source of fishmeal is gradually increasing due to intensification of fish and poultry farming. However, there are hardly any capabilities of catching demersal fishes below 50m depth of water. Long lines fishing are totally absent in deep waters. There is tremendous scope for increasing marine catch introducing technology and long line, incentives for bigger ocean going trawler, huge scope for higher end industry in venturing beyond 60 km coastline.
Opportunities do not arrive without potential threats. Researcher Krishna KR Sharma, have identified five threats to the bio-diversity of the Bay of Bengal, namely overfishing, predator loss, pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction. Overfishing depletes the stocks of fish beyond their ability to recover. This disrupts the ecosystem and eliminates a valuable source of food and income. Predator’s removal can cause a potentially-irreversible cascade of complex knock-on effects, destabilizing marine ecosystems. Pollution can poison marine life and decimate entire marine environments. Vast quantities of solid and chemical waste from human activities are continually dumped and flow into the sea thus plastics, sewage, oil and toxins accumulate in food webs. Climate change will create vast dead zones as plankton and corals – the primary producers for nearly all marine life – struggle to survive under increasingly inhospitable conditions.Habitat destruction physically limits the suitable living space available to marine life. Coastal development, trawling, and aquaculture all destroy important marine habitats vital for supporting sea health, such estuaries and mangrove systems that function as nurseries.
The following may be the challenges for the Blue Economy of Bangladesh: i. ensuring the sovereignty over the total coastal area. ii. Maintaining the security over the economic area. iii. Establishing marine friendly infrastructure for marine tourist. iv. Protecting the area from the international smugglers and fish pirates. v. Maintaining investment friendly environment in the awarded area. vi. Sustainable use of biodiversity. vii. Maintaining marine and coastal ecosystems. viii. Preserving mangrove and sea grass. ix. Addressing climate change and managing carbon emission. x. Maintaining sea level rise and change in ecosystem and temperatures, from coral bleaching. xi. Addressing ocean acidification and blue carbon. xii. Keeping the sea area free from pollution and marine debris. xiii.Growing population and intensification of agriculture.
In final words, it is suggested that Bangladesh needs to generate more awareness and broaden the horizon towards utilizing maritime resources and bring about socio-economic changes in the lives of people of Bangladesh. Bangladesh must consider Blue Economy as inclusive and people-centric.Bangladesh Navy along with other coastal security agencies must be equipped with modern and adequate platform and equipment to undertake vested responsibilities of maintaining security and safe guarding economic resources of vast maritime areas. All maritime agencies must allocate and integrate their resources so that all maritime tasks can be performed synergistically, effectively and efficiently.

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