Blue economy – if utilised properly – has the potential to contribute around 4% of Bangladesh's GDP by playing an important role in the country's economic upliftment in terms of poverty alleviation, ensuring food and nutrition security, and combating the impacts of climate change.
Twenty-six maritime economic functions, including fishing, maritime trade and shipping, energy generation, tourism, mineral extraction, coastal protection and maritime safety will be integral for the development of the blue economy in Bangladesh.
The concept offers opportunities for a sustainable, clean and equitable blue growth in traditional and emerging local sectors, Rear Admiral Md Khurshed Alam (Retd), secretary at the Maritime Affairs Unit under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a seminar on Sunday.
Presenting the keynote at the event titled "Bangabandhu's Concept and Blue Economy" organised by the shipping ministry, Khurshed said, "Fisheries, aquaculture and mariculture will contribute towards food security and nutrition, as well as employment of millions of people.
"The sea salt production is also a big source of employment, which should be geared up."
Blue economy is the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem. It is also a component of the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
Discussing the country's maritime shipping sector, Alam said, "Shipping supports sustainable development, facilitates global commerce, and contributes to the creation of wealth and prosperity among nations.
"Shipping also creates a wide variety of jobs in both the ships and shore, which makes direct and indirect positive impacts on people's livelihoods."
Adding that Bangladesh currently has only 62 merchant ships, he pointed out, "This is not adequate enough to transport even a fraction of our exports and imports. As a result, Bangladeshi businessmen have paid $95 billion as freight charges to foreign shipping companies, airlines and freight operators in the last ten years.
"So Bangladesh must provide enough incentives to local shipping companies so that they can add more ships to their existing fleet. Also, ports have to be maintained and dredged properly, as those are crucial to all maritime economic activities."
The Maritime Affairs Unit secretary said the shipbuilding and ship recycling industries must be modernised with eco-friendly infrastructure and compliance. He also recommended transporting goods through riverways across the country – which is cheap, safe and environmentally friendly.
Besides, Khurshed Alam recommended using marine-based renewable energy systems utilising the wind and waves. Such methods have a significant potential for supplying energy with a low carbon footprint, and should be focused on for generating electricity, he said.
"Sand in the beach (from Patenga to Teknaf) contains 17 types of valuable heavy minerals including zircon, rutile, limonite, leucoxene, kyanite, garnet, magnetite and monazite. Proper extraction of those minerals may enhance the growth of different local industries such as welding electrodes, paper, glass, chemical and ceramic sectors," he mentioned.
Sounding a note of caution, Alam said around 150 million tonnes of plastic have been dumped in the Bay of Bengal so far, and it will increase to 850 million tonnes by 2050 if no action is taken against this malpractice.
The Maritime Affairs Unit secretary concluded his keynote stating that there is a lack of skilled human resource, institutions and technology to effectively utilise the marine resources in Bangladesh.
Speaking as the chief guest, International Affairs adviser to the Prime Minister Gowher Rizvi said, "The blue economy, which offers bountiful resources, has significant value and it is an enormous area of opportunity for Bangladesh.
"But we must be sure to utilise such resources in a sustainable way, otherwise it may evoke disaster. The people, who are earning their livelihood from the sea, have to be skilled and well equipped too."
Gowher Rizvi also emphasised the need for well-trained, skilled and educated human resources – who are the driving force for a dynamic and sustainable development of an economy. "To achieve our Target 2041, we have to start working right now," he concluded.
At the event, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said, "We got 1.19 lakh square kilometres in the Bay of Bengal, and using this resource, we will eradicate poverty in Bangladesh by ensuring plenty of food and employment."
The shipping ministry is making a serious effort to build the infrastructure strong to cater the process, he added.