Blue economy and sustainable development

October 9, 2022

Feasibility and sustainability need to guide planning and development in coastal areas

Blue economy and sustainable development


he term, blue economy, was coined in 2012 during a United Nations conference on sustainable development and growth. According to the World Bank, it is defined as the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs while preserving the health of the ocean ecosystem.”

Evidence suggests that in most developing countries the focus is on a part of the definition. The part regarding health of the ocean ecosystem is often ignored. Also, for some blue economy implies new settlements and not the development of livelihood opportunities for the indigenous populations in the coastal areas. This article is rooted in my visits to the coastal belt and the time spent there besides discussions on various forums including the Bank of Punjab-SDPI public private dialogue on blue economy in September 2022 and a multi-model conference in March 2022. It concludes some recommendations for both the demand and supply sides.

Pakistan is blessed with a coastline exceeding a thousand kilometres in length. Weak long-term planning has resulted in a majority of the population of the coastal areas remaining poor. The lack of basic amenities like safe drinking water and electricity is another issue. Benefiting from opportunities for tourism and fisheries, in addition to the marine trade, requires inclusive strategic as well as tactical level planning to mobilise and coordinate public as well as private sector efforts and resources. Exploitation of coastal wind power potential is another opportunity that merits exploration.

We have strengths in technical aspects of port development with Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Pakistan Navy. The National Institute of Maritime Affairs has potential and strategic expertise. International experts in development and operations of ports are already working in Pakistan. These include the China Overseas Ports Holding Company Pakistan (Pvt) Ltd. To be fully functional, ports require support through regional connectivity. The port development aspect therefore goes hand in hand with the development of land and rail communications. To fully utilise the potential of the ports that we aspire to develop, we need to connect them to China and Central Asian states.

Lessons learnt from Karachi, where availability and affordability of basic amenities is becoming hard, highlight the need for a feasibility and sustainability focus in port city planning and development. The urban and industrial planning vis-à-vis planning for basic amenities required for any city includes ample availability and provision of water and electricity for anticipated domestic, commercial, and industrial use, logistic integration with local markets for all requirements of the residents and effective waste management.

This will require effective urban planning based on the available data. The expansion plan for the city(s) needs to be aligned with the electricity transmission and distribution infrastructure for the region as well as its water supply schemes. The planning for the water filtration plants and rain water harvesting will have to be linked with the urban and industrial planning of the region. The power requirements will be linked to the electricity distribution planning. The waste management practices are another important aspect. The concept of blue bonds can help us develop a significant case for the issue of waste management to ensure that we deal with responsible business practices leading to environmental social governance (ESG)-based incentives.

An aspect frequently missed in our long-term plans is the consideration for the local community’s livelihoods. This will require a significant effort in undertaking and understanding international case studies. A major hurdle is thought to be the geo-political situation, especially in the Balochistan region. With an optimistic mindset, the risk can be converted into an opportunity through change in development priorities.

As part of the China-Pakistan Young Workers’ Forum, in 2019, I had the opportunity to visit China as a think tank representative. We visited various parts of China including the Hohhot, the capital of the Inner Mongolia semi-autonomous region of China. The city is an excellent example of development. There was a time when Inner Mongolia region faced the threat of a separatist movement. The way the Chinese government included Inner Mongolia in their development priorities and gained the buy-in from the community is an example Pakistan can certainly learn from and replicate. Hohhot was primarily populated by dairy farmers and vendors. The city has been converted into one of the biggest dairy industries in the world, namely Yili Industries Group. Yili, not only has almost half of the global market share in the dairy industry worldwide but is also one of the most promising companies in the world. The city, which represented a separatist movement a few years ago, is a dairy city today with the whole value chain of the world class dairy product manufacturing occurring there. Similar inclusive development priority shift might make the transition towards a developed coastal region of Pakistan easy and sustainable.

Another significant aspect, especially with regards to coastal tourism is the cultural norms. The conceptualisation of coastal tourism in most of the minds is usually not cognizant of Baloch culture. However, the tourism can have several very important aspects. One very important aspect that can be exploited is the religious tourism aspect with several shrines and religious places nearby. Cultural tourism again is another possibility. Biodiversity-based tourism opportunities can be developed to explore wildlife an eco-tourism in the coastal belt.

Pakistan used to have a very strong development focus in its early years. Primary sectors of the national economy – agriculture, livestock, and fisheries – were among the most efficient in the 1960s. Later, however, we lost our way. Some people attribute this to nationalisation, but I personally feel complacency killed these sectors. The sector leaders somehow didn’t see the need to continue to improve. This resulted in pre-mature tertiary sector development. The fishermen in the coastal belt are still employing primitive techniques. Their capacity in terms of equipment use and business model development needs improvement for competing in the international markets. A value chain focus will result in development of a fish processing region development which may eventually make it a market leader in the sector.

The focus on wholesome blue economy development through coordinated and consistent governance at all levels will enable Pakistan’s coastal area potential to be fully realised.

The author heads the Centre for Private Sector Engagement at the SDPI. He tweets @ahadnazir783 

Blue economy and sustainable development