The term Blue Economy can be traced back to the Rio+20 Conference of the United Nations on Sustainable Development and Growth referring to leveraging the coastal and marine resources for economic benefits in line with sustainable economic growth and environmental conservation. The need for diversifying sources of sustainable economic growth and development is felt more than ever before across the globe to address complex, interdepended, and pressing challenges like climate change, resource conflicts, simmering discontent, etc.
Reassuringly, however, the newly adopted National Security Policy of Pakistan places economic security at the core of national security to ensure the well-being of its citizens. Indeed, it is a testament to the growing and shared realization among the policymakers and common populace that Pakistan as a state and nation may find it impossible to survive or thrive and gracefully sail through these challenging circumstances without a strong and sustainable economic base. Though the NSP prudently places economic security at the heart of national security, we still have to walk the talk to overcome our pressing socio-economic issues.
In this regard, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development underscores the symbiotic relationship between sustainable economic growth and Blue Economy via SDG 14. The World Bank defines Blue Economy as: “Sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem.” It refers to the wide recognition of seas and oceans as the main drivers for economic development with great potential for innovation and growth. Therefore, to honor its international obligations for SDGs, Pakistan is integrating SDGs into its domestic development agenda, reflecting its appreciation of the blue potential. If history is any guide, those nations which turned to oceans and developed their maritime sectors emerged prosperously. Thus, ‘turning blue’ is no longer a question of choice but a strategic and economic compulsion for Pakistan.
Therefore, it is vital to consider how Pakistan can best benefit from its maritime sector and what are some of the challenges that prevent it from fully realizing the untapped potential of its maritime sector? A cursory look at the history of Pakistan’s approach to the maritime domain reveals that due to sea-blindness, the country has not adequately invested in the development of some of the aforementioned pre-requisites resulting in the underutilization of the maritime potential. It is noteworthy that geography plays a crucial part in charting out a viable maritime strategy and Pakistan’s geo-strategic location at the confluence of civilizations and vital regions makes it one of the most naturally favored states in terms of the benefits that it can reap from the sheer volume of maritime trade taking place in its maritime domain. Nevertheless, being an important maritime state in the Indian Ocean region (IOR), Pakistan is gradually realizing the benefits of the Blue Economy. The country is blessed with a 1050 km long coastline besides an Exclusive Economic Zone of 290000 sq. In addition, the extension of the continental shelf (50,000 sq. Km) was also approved by United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS) in 2015. However, Pakistan’s maritime sector is financially and technologically intensive and requires a substantial investment for building, operating and turning it into economically profitable. Its present-day maritime revenue projection stands at $183 million which is far behind our neighbors including India and Bangladesh, whose estimated projections stand at $5.6 and $6 Billion respectively. Moreover, Pakistan’s coastal areas are rich in bio-productivity and bio-diversity as they provide huge breeding grounds for commercially important fisheries including carbs and shrimps with a potential resource worth more than $2 billion annually. Notwithstanding the vast fish export potential, Pakistan’s fishing sector only contributes 0.4% to 0.6 % percent to the country’s GDP. This again signifies how little we are doing despite having immense potential in this realm which in turn is hampering our growth prospects in the long run.
Another hurdle that remains in regards to our blue economy is the underutilization of its potential. CPEC as the flagship project, harbinger of prosperity and friendship between China and Pakistan has the potential to help develop our maritime domain. The cornerstone of this partnership is the geo-strategically placed Gwadar Port. Due to its strategic positioning, this port over time has become the bedrock of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a megastructure initiative for connectivity through land and sea lanes. In this paradigm, the economics surrounding Gwadar port plays a significant role and it is extremely pertinent that we as a nation and policymakers pay special attention.
Furthermore, the shipbreaking industry of Pakistan namely Gadani used to be one of the largest shipbreaking industries in the world during the 1970s but now it is placed at number third after India and Bangladesh. If this industry is revived back and utilized to its full potential, it can have the capacity to contribute more than $10 million to GDP annually. Another most important industry which shows great promise is coastal tourism.
Moreover, Pakistan is home to the sixth-largest area of mangroves in the world. Pakistan’s mangroves forest is spread over an area of 160,000 hectares. Mangroves are an important aspect of the blue economy and contribute to 4 billion dollars in exports. In the nutshell, Pakistan is naturally favored and endowed with huge natural resources. To fully realize this potential, Pakistan needs to fill the gap between education and maritime research. In this regard, the School of Maritime Sciences is a positive development that can serve the purpose of enhanced maritime awareness and knowledge. The need for an integrated National Maritime Policy cannot be overemphasized as the country is gradually but steadily turning to the Oceans for sustainable economic growth and development.