Blue Pakistan

By Yasir Masood | DAWN Feb 4, 2023

‘BLUE economy’ refers to sustainable and inclusive water resource management that covers all coastal activities, marine-related industries, and services that could generate revenue and bolster socioeconomic well-being.

It also encompasses the energy (oil, gas and renewables), shipping, maritime, aquaculture, fisheries and tourism sectors and integrates environmental management, economic growth, and aquatic ecosystem sustainability. Over three billion people across the world rely on marine resources for their livelihoods.

Pakistan is presently confronted with one of its most formidable economic challenges. Given the circumstances, it seriously needs to diversify its economy to put the country back on track. Blue economy is a promising area that could strengthen Pakistan’s financial, geostrategic and geo-economic standing.

Here we discuss Pakistan’s blue economy, including its underutilisation. How can decision-makers and key players tap this economy’s potential for a self-sufficient and sustainable Pakistan, all the while keeping the country’s myriad challenges in mind?

Despite having the potential to generate more than $100 billion, Pakistan’s current blue landscape is limited to generating an estimated $1bn. Most of it comes from fisheries, coastal tourism, and marine revenue, but the lack of modern industries such as energy and minerals restricts its potential. Meanwhile, regional states are making billions of dollars from this sector.

Owing to last year’s devastating floods, there is an immediate need to tackle food insecurity in Pakistan. The coastal areas can be used to breed fish for commercial purposes, with a potential yearly value of $2bn; but, seafood export revenues are now only around $450 million, according to estimates. Pakistan hasn’t fully capitalised on its proximity to the Arabian Sea and the Indus river basin, despite the rising demand for aquaculture products from domestic, Chinese and Indian markets.

Inadequate financial resources, political uncertainty, weak enforcement of the law, technological gaps, and poor awareness of and expertise in sustainable methods have hindered the country from harnessing its blue potential. This in turn is contributing to greater food insecurity.

Blue economy emphasises sustainable development while preserving biomass like marine life and coastal resources. This could help solve the country’s protein shortage by increasing seafood consumption. Meanwhile, the mangrove system is also said to have the potential to yield $20m.

Pakistan’s coastline is 1,050 kilometres long and has an Exclusive Economic Zone of 290,000 square kilometres.

The country’s location on the Arabian Sea, bordering India to the east and Iran and Afghanistan to the west can make it the hub for shipping goods across South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and beyond, helping the economy profit from regional trade and global markets.

It also offers transportation, tourism and ecological services like storm protection and carbon storage, which can boost local economies.

Pakistan has been unable to realise its potential as a marine hub. Reports on the subject have cited the reasons as: poor port access, limited finances for infrastructure renovations and modernisation, outdated policies discouraging foreign investment, fragmented governance, marine pollution, degradation of the mangrove forests, a lack of local technical and professional skills and an incompetent managerial and bureaucratic set-up.

Figures estimate that maritime tourism ac­­counts for $300m of GDP. Current maritime revenue projections are far behind India’s at $6bn and Bangladesh’s at $5.6bn. Unfor­tunately, earni­n­­gs from Pakis­tan’s tourism indu­stry are a mere 0.4 per cent of GDP, compa­red to Thailand’s at 18pc, Mala­y­sia’s at 6pc, and Sri Lanka’s at 6pc. Un­­f­o­r­tunately, it is South Asia’s least competitive travel and tourism country.

According to some experts, if the travel and coastal tourism sectors were to be improved to international levels, they could even contribute up to 10pc of GDP by the next decade or so.

Under CPEC, Gwadar Port when fully functional offers great potential to aid in revitalising Pakistan’s blue assets.

Gwadar’s airport development, free-trade zones, IT parks, BPO operations, energy production and storage, mineral extraction and export, and electricity linkages through an industrial corridor could accelerate local economic growth through resource mobilisation and attract substantial foreign direct investment.

If Pakistan were to achieve long-term growth and reap dividends from the blue economy, it has to adopt and put into practice a rigorous, localised, and sustainable policymaking framework on a war footing; a framework that draws inspiration from the achievements of its South Asian neighbourhood, Asean, and beyond.

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