Thursday, 23 September, 2021

Bangladesh Needs to Adopt Integrated Approach for Blue Economy

Capt W H Kutubuddin, Kaniz Kanta and Md. Rakibul Karim

Bangladesh Needs to Adopt Integrated Approach for Blue Economy

The corona virus pandemic has disrupted economy and business activities all around the world. Now, the investors and financial institutions must find the solutions for new growth and jobs to achieve sustainable economy of the future. Moreover, Bangladesh has already set her feet in the tough global game of economic development where she must ensure the optimum utilization possibly of all her resources using Blue Economy concept for coastal management and development of marine resources.

Blue Economy is a term which relates economic or financial activities of people directly or indirectly involving the ocean which offers a plethora of opportunities. Although the dependence of human civilizations on oceans dates back from prehistoric times, academically Blue Economy is an emerging concept for the maritime nations. In contrast the land-based economies are often referred as Brown Economy whereas the concept of Green Economy primarily focuses on environment concerns.

In Rio+20 conference in 2012, the small island countries questioned and highlighted the problems of economic models based on the traditional terrestrial green economy. They highlighted the importance of healthy oceans and embraced the concept of the Blue Economy through “improved human wellbeing, social equity, while significantly reducing environmental and ecological risks.” However, the current ocean governance system of Bangladesh is plagued by fragmented laws, overlapping legislation and insufficient institutional and financial capacities.

Bangladesh has a glorious globally dominating past of maritime heritage reported by the 14th century Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta or 15th century Caesar Frederick. This history became evanescent day by day. Keeping in mind of this rich maritime history the ingenious Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman revitalized the people of the newly born sovereign Bangladesh to dream big again about the innumerable prospects of Blue Economy by promulgating "Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act 1974".

Recently the topic of Blue Economy has captured much attention among the academicians and other stakeholders in Bangladesh, with the dream to regain its glory in maritime heritage. Four factors are mainly working behind this. Firstly, Bangladesh has made an outstanding jump in economic growth under the well-organized leadership of honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the last decade. But behind this remarkable development our land resources are being overused. Secondly, under the same leadership two international verdicts came in favour of Bangladesh over Myanmar and India in 2012 and 2014 and we have established sovereign victory over 118,813 sq km of ocean area. This achievement has opened a huge opportunity of Blue Economy for Bangladesh that was never explored, exploited, and invested before. Thirdly, Bangladesh is committed to achieving all 10 targets under SDG 14 (Life bellow water) to create action to conserve and use the oceans in a sustainable manner. Fourthly, again, under the same visionary leadership, the government of Bangladesh has formulated a comprehensive development plan - the Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP 2100), focusing on economic growth, environmental conservation, and enhanced climate resilience. The plan lays out holistic and cross-sectoral action needed to improve productivity and minimize disaster risks.

The government of Bangladesh has identified a total of 26 Blue Economy sectors through two workshops held at the national level in 2014 and 2017 and until now all development goals, planning, and activities, relevant to Blue Economy are advocating and circling around these 26 sectors. Following the pioneering "Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act 1974" many more laws, regulations and policies have been enacted or formulated in Bangladesh aiming to support the stakeholders to bring in the profits from these 26 sectors. However, though these laws, regulations and policies are concerned about the Blue Economy, somehow are sporadically enacted and not interlinked with each other. None of these laws have taken any holistic approach to address the daily real time challenges faced by the front-line stakeholders of the Blue Economy in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh Biodiversity Act – 2017 does have a definition of Biodiversity but no specific indication on marine ecosystem. In this Act from the national level to the union level, different layers of committees have been formed to explore, protect, and exploit the opportunities from local biodiversity. But there are no clear demarcations between the activities of Bangladesh Environment Department formed under Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act 1995 and the activities of the committees formed under Bangladesh Biodiversity Act 2017.

On the other hand, the Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Act – 1974 was plagued by some drawbacks. However, it has been updated by ‘The Maritime Zones Act 2019’ to strengthen legal elements of Bangladesh regarding use of the sea fulfilling to a large extent country’s obligation of adopting national laws mentioned in the 1982 UNCLOS. With the adoption of the Act, the government has given utmost importance to exploration and exploitation of ocean resources in a sustainable manner. Hopefully, it would unlock the potentials of blue economy and at the same time check crimes, particularly maritime terrorism, anti-robbery, criminal and civil jurisdiction in ships including nuclear waste transportation etc. According to Secretary Maritime Affairs Unit of MOFA, a lot of emphasis was given to marine scientific research, climate forecasting, oceanography and exploration and exploitation of natural resources. The Act has 14 chapters and 137 sections dealing with several maritime related issues which were absent in the previous Act like protection of marine environment. Now, time will say how this new Act generates initiatives among ministries concerned to tap 26 identified sectors of the Blue Economy.

Speaking of authorities, we have also found that Environment Action Plan – 1992 empowers the Ministry of Environment and Forest to establish a special cell to integrate protection, development, and monitoring development programs for the coastal and marine environment. On the other hand, Marine Fisheries Ordinance 1983 makes provisions for the management, conservation, and development of marine fisheries in the Bangladesh fisheries waters and to deal with certain matters connected therewith. Recently Marine Fisheries Ordinance 1983 has been replaced by Marine Fisheries Act 2020.

Territorial Waters and Maritime Zones Rules – 1977 provides rules on conduct of foreign ships in the territorial waters. Furthermore, recently Bangladesh Flag Vessels (Protection) Act – 2019 (Section 4 and 5) has put some restrictions on foreign vessels to carry the goods of Bangladesh. According to the Navy Ordinance, 1961, the primary role of the Bangladesh Navy is to protect the country's economic and military interests at home and abroad. Bangladesh Navy defends the country from threats emanating on, above and under the sea; promote and protect our maritime interest and assist in maritime governance. Bangladesh Navy and Coast guard deter Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing within the Bay of Bengal part of Bangladesh. Bangladesh Navy may not be regarded as security and policing agency only. The vast experience of the naval personnel as seafarer may be exploited to develop the Blue Economy sector. Additionally, Bangladesh Coast Guard Act 2016 clearly defines the activities of Coast Guard in Section 10 which includes protecting the national interest of Bangladesh on the sea, preventing illegal fishing, robbery, and subversive activities of environment pollution on the sea whereas the issue of IUU fishing has been defined very recently in Section 7(1) of Marine Fisheries Act 2020. That has paved the way for 65-day ban for all fishing activity to recover hilsa stocks, but it has also begun attracting use of trawlers fitted with equipment to track and target the hilsa schools reversing the fish stocks management in Bangladesh.

Unlike Chittagong Development Authority Act 2018 for Chittagong Area, Cox’s Bazar Development Authority Act 2016 has formulated some provisions in Section 6 regarding development in Tourism Sector in Cox’s Bazar area. However, no clear demarcation of jurisdiction was made with the development activities required under The Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation Order, 1972 (President's Order). Different laws have created namely: Wildlife Conservation and Security Act, 2012, Bangladesh Environment Conservation Act,1995, Bangladesh Water Act, 2013; The Protection and Conservation of Fish Act, 1985, Ecologically Critical Areas Management Rules 2016, focusing different authorities and jurisdictions, sometimes overlapping and conflicting with each other, those are hindering ripping the benefits of the Blue Economy in Bangladesh.

It is time that Bangladesh identified and strengthened national policies to better integrate Blue Economy considerations and governance frameworks. In the absence of a specific and integrated legal regime addressing the issues relating to the blue economy, Bangladesh faces difficulties integrating blue economy activities in the competitive modern international trade market based on the ocean resources as well as difficulties in interpreting the rights and liabilities of various stakeholders and authorities concerned. Further, the need for law reform is more prominently felt for increased cross-referencing of the various legal provisions that affect the Blue Economy of Bangladesh. The policy can be formulated taking into consideration UNCLOS 1982, the conventions adopted by International Maritime Organization (IMO), conventions adopted by United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) etc. The Government, Bangladesh Navy, Universities (BSMRMU, DU, CU, NUST and PUST) and researchers concerned should work together for adopting integrated policy coherence/governance arrangement for the long-term sustainable use of ocean resources and for developing sustainable Blue Economy.


The writers are Navy Officer, advocate and private service holder respectively