DHAKA : Despite being quite a small country, in terms of landmass, Bangladesh has an extremely large population. In fact, it is the world’s tenth most densely populated country. Consequently, sustaining such a large population with little arable land and natural resources has been a concern for policymakers for a very long time.
But our nation has been blessed with a wealth of marine resources, the proper utilisation of which, can be a crucial factor for sustainable and continued development.
Bangladesh is bestowed with a coastal area of 2.30 million hectares and a coastline of 720 km along the Bay of Bengal. Unsurprisingly, one-fourth of its total population, around 35 million, lives along the coast line, relying both directly and indirectly on the sea for their livelihoods.
After resolving the maritime border disputes with India and Myanmar, Bangladesh now owns 2,07,000 square kilometers of sea, which is 1.4 times bigger than our total land area. An exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 166,000 square kilometers is also included within this boundary, where Bangladesh can exploit natural resources at its will.
The Bangladesh government has repeatedly professed its ambition to establish a “blue economy”, expanding the nation’s economic potential. A crucial part of this new horizon is going to be marine fishing and aquaculture.
Bangladesh is also blessed in this regard, with a considerable extent of marine biodiversity. Around 1,093 marine species can be found in the Bay of Bengal, including finfishes, shellfishes, seaweeds and shrimps.
Almost 457 fish species are available in our EEZ alone. Compared to the 250 fresh-water fish species found in our country, the Bay of Bengal can provide us with a hugely varied and abundant array of fish.
For a developing nation such as ours, proper utilisation of this resource can fulfill our protein requirements and stimulate the economy. Besides, byproducts of these resources can be used for research and development as well as industrial raw material.
Unfortunately, there is not an adequate legal framework to protect these resources. The ocean is continuously being polluted with agricultural runoffs, urban waste, industrial effluents, sewage and unregulated vessels. Port activities and the ship breaking industry are also major sources for oceanic pollution.
Even though Bangladesh has ratified many international conventions and laws regarding the ocean, no comprehensive national legal framework exists to conserve marine environments in our country.
As per Article 192 of UNCLOS, states have an obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment. But Bangladesh, as of yet, has failed to comply with this obligation.
The Environmental Conservation Act (ECA) 1995 (amended in 2010) has provided a framework for minimising pollution and conserving the environment. But the act does not contain any provision targeted at marine pollution. It also does not contain any mechanism for implementing the international laws and conventions Bangladesh has ratified.
Though there are a number of sectoral laws, these are not free from loopholes and lacunas. For example, under The Territorial Water and Maritime Zones Act, the government can take action against marine pollution. But there is no such provision in the act specifying the acts which constitute marine pollution.
Another drawback of the law can be found in the fisheries sector. As we know, implementation of fishery policy depends on an effective monitoring and assessment procedure. But the existing fishery policies lack proper clauses for adequate monitoring and impact assessment.
The Coast Guard Act 2016 is the most praiseworthy initiative by the Bangladesh government. But there is no focus on capacity building of the coast guard and advancement of technological equipment. As a result the huge and resourceful maritime boundary of the country has not been utilised properly till date.
Unsurprisingly, there has been no exclusive maritime court established in Bangladesh despite its large maritime boundary. Laws relating to the foreign investments in this sector are weak and obsolete. There has been no remarkable effort to encourage investment in this sector, even though there is a lot of potential.
In order to protect the marine ecosystem, preserve marine biodiversity and prevent endangerment of the marine environment, we need to adopt a comprehensive marine law in conformity with the international marine rules and regulations as soon as possible. If not, we will see our crucial marine resources gone to waste.