Seas have always been instrumental in defining the destiny of the world, be it as a means of transportation or as trade routes or as a hub of resources. They have also played a significant role in bringing people closer, melting down of cultures and religions; and it definitely helped in spreading new ideas and thoughts. Today, as we stand in the 21st century, seas are important not only for military needs but also for the economy.
Earlier technology was not that advanced. Hence the sea was a forbidden world. At that time people only focused on fishing and extraction of oil. But today, advent of advanced new technologies has opened up new vistas of opportunity. Nations are now trying to exploit and explore the marine resources. In this backdrop, there is new thinking on the ways and means of use of seas and oceans. Prof Gunter Pauli in his seminal book The Blue Economy: 10 years, 100 innovations, 100 million jobs for the first time brought the concept of “Blue Economy” into prominence. Today, Blue Economy is ushering in a new paradigm of ocean- and sea-based sustainable development without jeopardising the ocean health.
Following the declaration of Honourable PM Sheikh Hasina's vision on Blue Economy in 2014 people in Bangladesh are also now hoping to see a new tomorrow by exploiting the fleeting opportunities of the Blue Economy. Bangladesh has very successfully resolved the delimitation issue and gained a total of 118,813 sq. km of territorial sea, 200 nautical miles of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and a substantial share of extended continental shelf in the Bay of Bengal. On the other hand, we now have the economic wherewithal to go for state-of-the-art technologies. Hence gradually Bangladesh will go towards a lot of economic activities which will be related to seas, oceans and coastal areas. As a result of this new era of Industrialisation of Seas, public sector, private sector, entrepreneurs, foreign investors, multinational companies, local communities, etc., will come into the areas adjacent to our seas. They will build their companies, raise the infrastructures, and a lot of activities will go on there. Logically, all these will have climatic impacts. Concomitantly, increased frequencies and intensities of natural disasters in our areas cannot be ruled out. Bangladesh is a ground zero in terms of climatic affects. So if we are not concerned about the resilient infrastructures for blue economy, we will face dire consequences and will fail to harness the fleeting opportunities of the Blue Economy.
When we talk about Blue Economy, we have on one hand the economic activities related to the seas and oceans, and environmental factors on the other.
For harnessing the full potential of ocean-based resources within the present maritime boundary of Bangladesh, a range of productive economic sectors will be needed: 1) marine fisheries and aquaculture; 2) marine non-traditional species culture; 3) marine biotechnology; 4) carbon sequestration; 5) oil, gas and minerals mining; 6) ocean renewable energy; 7) sea salt production; 8) marine trade, shipping and transport; 9) marine tourism; 10) marine education and research; 11) maritime surveillance; 12) marine spatial planning, etc.
One has to note that when we talk about Blue Economy related industrial, economic, and social projects, we should realise that it is a colossal job encompassing a wide geographical area and wide array of different types of infrastructures, including road network, rail network, power supply and water supply network, ports and airports, power generation station, water treatment facilities, warehouses, industrial complexes, hotels, motels, tourist resorts, just to name a few.
Now all of these infrastructures will be susceptible to hazards, both natural and manmade, e.g. sea level rise, cyclone, tornado, tidal surge, pollution, oil spillage, accidental fires, collapse of infrastructure, etc. Vulnerabilities are intrinsic to infrastructures. This depends on quality of building, its planning, structural and architectural aspects, and so on. When hazards interact with infrastructures their vulnerabilities come into play. Either the hazards are controlled by mitigation or other interventions or the hazards lead to disasters which are behind our capability to control.
In order to understand the seriousness of the issue, one has to look at the data on natural disasters. In 2017, about 318 natural disasters occurred, affecting 122 countries—the impact of which resulted in 9,503 deaths. Ninety-six million people were affected, and economic damage was as high as USD 314 billion.
In the country where Blue Economy related activities will go on, for example in the south-east including the Cox's Bazar coast and south-west including the Sundarbans, these areas will be susceptible to, as the experts predicted in AR5 Report IPCC, sea level rise, increased precipitation, frequent cyclones and tornados, coastal tide, soil erosion, temperature variations, flooding, etc. As a result of these hazards, our infrastructure will face a number of challenges.
A resiliency approach to designing, building, and protecting our critical infrastructures and managing their risks is what is needed to address these risks at a systemic level. Here resiliency means: the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to and recover rapidly from disruptions. The concept of resiliency takes a risk-based and layered approach to addressing inter-linkages among today's complex infrastructures, and looks for solutions through a lifecycle approach to design, construction, and operation of our complex infrastructure systems. Such an approach would enable us to harness these growing risks by crafting solutions that leverage today's technological complexities while minimising their risks.
Nowadays, coastal resiliency has emerged to address ecological functioning, human behaviour, engineering design, and community sufficiency in the face of potential hazards. Coastal resiliency adopts a “multiple lines of defence” approach: combinations of natural infrastructure (salt marsh, coral, mangrove, oyster, dunes, sea wall, sea wall and riprap, levee and dike, etc.) engineered solutions, both “soft” (biodegradable fibre rolls, drift fences, coir envelopes, beach nourishment) and “hard” (revetments, bulkheads, articulating concrete mats), together with policy (buyouts, zoning, and building codes) to reduce the impacts associated with storms. Some call it going towards hybrid infrastructural solutions.
There is substantial evidence that natural infrastructure (i.e., health ecosystems) and combinations of natural and built infrastructure (“hybrid” approaches) enhance coastal resilience by providing important storm and coastal flooding protection, while also providing other benefits. There is growing interest around the world to use natural infrastructure to help coastal communities become more resilient to extreme events and reduce the risk of coastal flooding.
The Blue Economy Project focuses on increasing resiliency of natural resources areas and infrastructure and investing in maritime industries will be a timely initiative that sets a foundation for the future discourse on the issue.
Additionally, many countries are focusing on Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM). In simple words, ICZM is a process of governance and consists of the legal and institutional framework necessary to ensure that development and management plans for coastal zones are integrated with environment (including social) goals and are made with the participation of those affected. The purpose of ICZM is to maximise the benefits provided by the coastal zone and to minimise the conflicts and harmful effects of activities upon one other, on resources and on the environment. The concept involves combining, coordination or integrating, at a number of scales, values, interests and goals, many of which are in competition. As a layman, what I understand by integration is that it is all about connecting all vulnerabilities and strengths.
Robert Wyland once said that “The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the imagination.” Rightly so. It is giving us new imaginations and ideas under the broad moniker of “Blue Economy”. In Bangladesh too there will be lots of activities related to seas and coasts. New industrial complexes, infrastructures, buildings, networks of services will start mushrooming in Cox's Bazar, Kutubdia, Maheshkhali, Patuakhali, Khulna and Mongla areas. For ensuring a better future, it is now time to think about resiliency in whatever we build in our coastal areas and areas adjacent to our seas. Otherwise unplanned Blue Economy related infrastructures will be a burden rather than an asset; a threat rather than an opportunity. And neglecting the resiliency issue related to our Blue Economy infrastructures will be at our own peril and will cause an irreparable damage for all. Therefore a resilient infrastructure for blue economy should be our slogan for the upcoming days.
Commodore MN Absar, NGP, ndc, psc, BN (Retd) is a security analyst and maritime expert.