Blue Economy and Sustainable Development in Bangladesh

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Blue Economy means the sustainable use of marine resources, ensuring the health of the ocean. The pursuit of Blue Economy has been instrumental in the pursuit of sustainable development of a maritime nation. Thus, Bangladesh requires pursuing Blue Economy objectives in order to attain sustainable development goals of the country. In fact, it is not possible to attain sustainable development goals without utilizing marine resources sustainably.

One can argue that a healthy ocean is imperative for the economic growth and the socio-economic development of a nation. And Bangladesh considers Blue Economy as one of the cornerstones for its economic growth and socio-economic development.

At the 2019 Blue Economy Ministerial Conference, Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina emphasized that ‘There are great opportunities to accelerate the sustainable development process of the respective countries of the region through Blue Economy approach making best use of the unused or untapped resources of the sea’. The scholarly community also establishes linkage between Blue Economy and development. For instance, C. Patrick Heidkamp et al. in their recently published book, titled, Blue Economy: People and Regions in Transitions argue that the concept of Blue Economy has been a potential driver of development, economic growth and sustainability.

The pursuit of Blue Economy can be a critical enabler of poverty reduction in Bangladesh. For instance, marine fisheries sector is a critical source of food security and a source of income/livelihood for tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh. Shipping sector has already lifted many out of poverty in the country by providing source of income.

In 1974, realizing the importance of the sea and its potential maritime resources, Father of the Nation, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman first adopted ‘The Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act, 1974’, in order to set the limit of the maritime areas of Bangladesh and to conduct different activities within the limit and also to search for sea resources. Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina regime is also trying to utilize marine resources sustainably. It is worthy to note that the government of Bangladesh has announced the Marine Protected Areas totaling about 8.8% of its Exclusive Economic Zone. Bangladesh government has also announced its National Plan of Action for eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2019 and has amended Bangladesh Ship Recycle Act 2018 and set a target of compliance of The Hong Kong Convention by 2023. Bangladesh has also forged cooperation with bilateral partners and financial institutions in the pursuit of Blue Economy goals.

Policy Responses

Bangladesh has technological, manpower and resource limitations with regard to exploring and harnessing Blue Economy. In this context, Bangladesh needs cooperation from both states and non-state actors. The following policies can be taken into consideration.

Establishing Ministry of Blue Economy

The establishment of a full-fledged Blue Economy Ministry is the reality now for Bangladesh. On the one hand, there is a clash among the different departments related to marine resources exploration. Though Blue Economy Cell (BEC) was created in January 2017 to coordinate among different ministries which work on Blue Economy, it failed largely due to its economic limitations, lack of human resources, and conflict of interest. On the other hand, when there will be a full-fledged Ministry of Blue Economy, it will receive substantial priority in the national budget or in the policy formulations. In addition, to raise marine domain awareness, there is no alternative but to establish such a Ministry.

In fact, many countries have already established Blue Economy Ministry. For instance, Barbados has established the Ministry of the Blue Economy and Maritime Affairs focused on the Blue Economy, the government of Belize has established Ministry of Blue Economy and Civil Aviation, the Republic of Seychelles has established Ministry of Fisheries and Blue Economy, and Mauritius has established Ministry of Blue Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries and Shipping. In fact, to popularize the Blue Economy discourse, the Republic of Seychelles has declared 17 July as Blue Economy Day. Through the national commemoration of the Blue Economy Day, the country attempts to make Blue Economy very special for the country and its people. The Government of Kenya has renamed its State Department of Fisheries to the State Department for Fisheries and the Blue Economy in May 2016. These examples reveal the growing importance of Blue Economy which led to the institution building.

Introducing Blue Economy Course in IR

Blue Economy course needs to be introduced in the discipline of International Relations (IR) in Bangladesh. Many states have already prioritized Blue Economy as one of the foreign policy priorities. Vijay Sakhuja and Somen Banerjee in their recently published book on Blue Economy (2020, p.119) contend that Blue Economy ‘is finding reference and relevance in international relations, geopolitics, geostrategic issues, safety and security discourse, environment and ecological debates, financing, legal implications and in entrepreneurship and technological innovation’.

It is worth noting that the discipline of International Relations is primarily preoccupied with the land/continental dimension while the vast ocean/maritime domain has been relatively neglected in the past (https://nomadit.co.uk/conference/cham2017/p/5538). There is a growing acknowledgement today, by the states, international, regional, and sub-regional organizations, civil society organizations, and media that the future of humanity will overwhelmingly depend on the oceans.  Thus, Blue Economy needs greater attention in International Relations as a new economic and ecological frontier of international geopolitical economy.

There is no denying of the fact that Blue Economy can be an important driver of sustainable development of Bangladesh. In fact, the future of Bangladesh holds on the sustainable utilization of marine resources. At the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly, Sheikh Hasina reiterated that ‘After the peaceful settlement of maritime boundaries with the neighbouring countries, the blue economy has opened new horizon for the development of Bangladesh. We are committed to working with global partners for the sustainable use, conservation and management of our marine resources’ (BSS, September 24, 2022). Thus, we see that Blue Economy has become a priority for Bangladesh for the sustainable development of the country.

– Dr. Md. Shariful Islam is an adjunct Research Fellow of the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA) and an Associate Professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.

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