THE INDIAN OCEAN REGION: IN PURSUIT OF BLUE ECONOMY

The  Indian  Ocean  has  immense  potential  in  providing  sustainable  livelihood  and economic development to its littoral countries. Exploring marine resources for economic development  while significantly reducing  environmental  risks and  ecological  scarcities has now come to be known as Blue Economy. There are many initiatives that have been taken up so far, since the evolution of the concept in 2012. As a further step in the series, the  first  Indian  Ocean  Rim  Association  (IORA)  ministerial-level  Conference  on  Blue Economy  was  held  in  Mauritius  on  2-3  September  2015.  Since  the  concept  of  Blue Economy provides a  model of development that is ocean-based instead of solely land- based, and is better suited to the challenges and opportunities of the Indian Ocean rim countries.  The  key  objective  of  the  Conference  was  to  understand  and  develop  the concept  of  Blue  Economy  to  help  Indian  Ocean  Rim  Association  (IORA)  countries  to create  new  job  opportunities  and  new  livelihoods  for  the  sustainable  development  of their  huge  populations.  During  this  Conference,  four  priority  issues  were  dealt  with: fisheries  and  agriculture;  renewable  ocean  energy;  sea  port  and  shipping  and  seabed exploration  for  hydrocarbons  and  minerals.  Other  priority  issues  relating  to  the  Blue Economy   such   as   tourism,   marine   bio-technology,   research   development,   ocean knowledge,  and  Small  Island  Developing  States  (SIDS)/Least  Developed  Countries (LDCs) are likely to be discussed in subsequent conferences.

Twenty  Indian  Ocean  rim  countries  participated  in  the  Conference.  They  agreed  on cooperation on the issues adopted in the conference. Since many countries in the region are  among  the  poorest  in  the  world—including  island  nations  with  their  intrinsic characteristics  and  vulnerability  levels  —they  have  formulated  and  strengthened  their national  plans  and  strategies  to  encourage  the  Blue  Economy  at  the  regional  and national  levels.  This  initiative  can  significantly  assist  them  in  eradicating  poverty, promoting   sustainable   development   processes,   and   improving   the   livelihoods   of populations by enhancing resiliency and capability to deal with their specific and unique vulnerability.  Nevertheless,  during  the  last  few  years,  the  global  food,  energy  and financial  crises  have  slowed-down  the  rate  of  development  in  the  region.  Due  to  this global crisis, progress in terms of achieving the Millennium Development Goals is now threatened  by  slow  and  negative  economic  development   resulting  from  decreased opportunities for trade, low resource base and insufficient aid from donor states.

It is recognized that the greatest threats to the development of the ocean economy in the region are poverty and the degradation of resources either from human activities (such as  unsustainable  exploitation  or  oil  spills)  or  from  natural  causes  (such  as  climate change).   These   challenges   and   restrains   have   hampered   sustainable   development practices  in  IOR  countries.  Therefore,  the  concept  of  a  Blue  Economy  seems  very significant in the case of Indian Ocean island states and other coastal countries. Some of island   states   like   Seychelles   and   Mauritius   have   already   taken   several   initiatives regarding the Blue Economy.

Recognising   the   importance   of   an   ocean-based   economy   for   island   and   coastal countries,   the   first   IORA   Conference   has   encouraged   member   states   to   enhance cooperation  and  coordination   in  various   Blue  Economy  sectors   like  fisheries  and aquaculture, renewable ocean energy, seaports and shipping, offshore hydrocarbons and seabed minerals. The Conference concluded with adoption of the IORA declaration with an  emphasis  on  sustainable  use  of  marine  resources  in  accordance  with  international laws,   including   the   Convention   of   Biological   Diversity   and   the   United   Nations Convention  on  the  Law  of  the  Sea  (UNCLOS);  cooperation  and  coordination  while collecting data on the ocean environment; and the sustainable development of the ocean economy.

As India is one of the major countries in the Indian Ocean region, having a long coast line  of  more  than  8000  kilometres  and  an  Exclusive  Economic  Zone  (EEZ)  of  over  2 million  square  kilometers,  smaller  ocean  states  reckon  that  India  can  assist  them  by sharing knowledge and resources in the areas of sea ports, shipping, fisheries, and aqua culture.  It  could  also  help  in  creating  a  proper  data  base  on  ocean  resources  and analysing big data.

Though,  such  conferences  are  very  significant  for  regional  coordination  island  and coastal countries of the Indian Ocean must search for more integrated and cooperative actions in the future which will enhance sustainable development. IOR countries suffer from  poverty  and  poor  infrastructure;  they  also  lack  skilled  human  resource  and opportunities  for  employment.Consequently,  they  face  difficulties  in  adopting  a  Blue Economy. In this context, the international conference on Blue Economy 2016 proposed by  the  Indian  Prime  Minister  during  India-Pacific  Island  Forum  meeting  in  August 2015; the Second International Blue Economy Summit scheduled to be held in UAE in 2016, and the Second IORA Conference on the Blue Economy scheduled to be held in Indonesia  in  2017  may  be  seen  as  an  invigouration  of  regional  efforts  to  promote  the concept  and  practices  of  the  Blue  Economy.  Such  efforts  would,  however,  need  to  be supplemented by the call by the region’s island and low-lying coastal countries for more strict and fair global action on climate change and its impacts such as sea level rise and increased frequency of natural disasters.

About the Author 

Asmita  Bakshi,  is PhD scholar at  the Centre for  International  Politics Organisation and  Disarmament, School  of  International  Studies,  Jawaharlal  Nehru  University,  New  Delhi.  The  views  expressed  are  her own   and   do   not   reflect   the   official   policy   or   position   of   the   NMF.   She   can   be   reached   at asmbak27@gmail.com

 

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