Dhiraj Kumar Nath
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro on 2012 focused on green economy where poverty eradicationwas considered a key challenge. In Rio+20, blue aspect of the green economy came in prominence. The countries with coastal belt and islands have remained at the forefront of this blue economy advocacy, recognising that the oceans have a major role to play in humanity’s future. Blue economy, according to them thus offers an approach to sustainable development better suited to their circumstances, constraints and challenges. Oceans cover 72% of our blue planet and constitute more than 95% of the biosphere. Life originated in the oceans and they continue to support all life and living. Marine life and oceans/seas continue to support human lives by generating oxygen, absorbing carbon dioxide, recycling nutrients and regulating global climate.
Bangladesh by gaining vast areas of oceans can thus claim to be a country of blue economy. A new horizon opened up for Bangladesh with the expansion of territorial area, exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh won its maritime suit against India that sustains more than 1,18,813 square kilometre of water comprising of territorial area, exclusive economic zones extending 200 nautical miles across sizeable area and sovereign rights in the seabed extending as far as 354 nautical miles of Chittagong Port. The country also won landmark victory against Myanmar in 2012 at the International Tribunal for the law of the seas.
Thus, the settlement of ocean disputes with India and Myanmar have in fact, opened a vast opportunity for our country to get benefits from blue economy. There will be discussions to find out the ways and means to explore the possibility for reaping benefits in real terms with full advantage in favour of Bangladesh from blue economy.
There will be discussions aimed at mapping the works already done and also further works that need to be undertaken to secure inclusive and balanced promotion, protection and conservation of the marine resources in the Indian Ocean belt, particularly the Bay of Bengal.
This is really a great opportunity that might need our prudence and acumen to invite the real investors and negotiate properly with expertise, skill and visionary ideas giving interest of the nation the top priority. About 19 ministries and divisions of the government are involved with this initiative to translate the opportunity into action to our advantage and enrich Bangladesh economy in real terms.
Our ownership over the 200 nautical miles and sovereign rights on the sea beds on continental self up to 354 nautical miles from Chittagong port opened our rights and title on the mineral resources including flora and fauna and transformation of the same in a way to our advantage.
This includes utilisation of resources of oil and gas exploration, fisheries, ship building and ship breaking, salt collecting, developing tourism and everything possible in near future. In the words of the foreign minister A H Mahmood Ali, “Bangladesh will emerge as a country rich with natural resources.”
This is, in fact, a highly commendable achievement of our foreign ministry for which they can claim appreciation.
There would be international bidding for the exploration of oil and gas. There will be a major breakthrough to enrich our economy and generate economic growth in real terms. The primary assessment indicates few trillion gas in a few zones available within our premises. In fact, profit sharing contract will be a major challenge for the country at this stage. Of course, the experience of our concerned ministries and experts in this area might act as great advantages to gain the benefits.
Regarding the fisheries sector, as reported, about 800 million metric ton of fishes are caught every year in the Bay of Bengal. Bangladesh fishermen can harvest only 70 million tons and the rest are taken away by Thai, Indian and others. There are about 435 species of costly and attractive fishes available in this area. Industrial fishing trawlers, etc. could be used to help our fishermen.
Bangladesh is one of the promising countries in the field of ship building and ship breaking standing on the 13th position in ranking. An estimate indicates that Bangladesh contributes around for 24.8% of world growth in this industry. In Chittagong and Narayanganj, there are abundant opportunity to flourish this industry and the expansion of our coverage over territorial seas will surely promote this opportunity to gain strength in this sector.
Presently, around 600 ships arrive in Bangladesh in a year and anchor in the ports of Chittagong and Mongla. With this new opening of blue economy, obviously, huge number of ships will arrive in the ports of Bangladesh and thus earning from this sector must increase significantly. There will be many shipping agencies to operate and activate with freight forwarding resulting in huge growth in our banking and insurance sectors as well.
Besides, this would open an added opportunity of exporting salt to the extent of 1.5 million tons that could be attained provided adequate arrangements are taken in right spirit. This will also create enough opportunity to attract tourists to visit Bangladesh by creating new avenues to see and enjoy in the high sea.
There must be continuous monitoring and vigilance for prevention of marine pollution. Besides, integrity at all levels must be demonstrated giving emphasis on transparency and accountability.
We expect the blue economy will create a new horizon of hopes and aspirations to turn Bangladesh into a developed country in near future.
Dhiraj Kumar Nath is a former secretary and adviser to the caretaker government.