Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

BIMSTEC must get back on course

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Bay Of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) project

Mains level : Paper 2- BIMSTEC-challenges and opportunities

Context

As world attention remains focused on the war in Ukraine, leaders of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) will attend a summit meeting of the regional organisation.

Fourteen pillars for special focus

  • Founded in 1997, the seven-member BIMSTEC includes the littoral states of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar (Thailand is a member too) and the land-locked states of Nepal and Bhutan.
  • BIMSTEC has identified 14 pillars for special focus.
  • These are trade and investment, transport and communication, energy, tourism, technology, fisheries, agriculture, public health, poverty alleviation, counter terrorism and transnational crime, environment and disaster management, people-to-people contact, cultural cooperation and climate change.
  • While each sector is important, the segmented approach has resulted in aspirations rather than action.
  • The upcoming summit is an opportunity to take concrete steps to address critical challenges confronting the region.

Challenges facing Bay of Benga

1] Threat facing marine ecosystem

  • The Bay is an important source of natural resources for a coastal population of approximately 185 million people.
  • The Bay of Bengal is home to a large network of beautiful yet fragile estuaries, mangrove forests of around 15,792 square kilometres, coral reefs of around 8,471 sq.km, sea grass meadows and mass nesting sites of sea turtles.
  • Loss of mangrove and coral reefs: The annual loss of mangrove areas is estimated at 0.4% to 1.7% and coral reefs at 0.7%. I
  • Increasing sea levels: It is predicted that the sea level will increase 0.5 metres in the next 50 years.
  • Cyclonic storms: Moreover, there have been 13 cyclonic storms in the last five years.
  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Bay of Bengal is one of IUU fishing hotspots in the Asia-Pacific.
  • The pressing challenges that confront the Bay of Bengal include the emergence of a dead zone with zero oxygen where no fish survive;
  • Leaching of plastic from rivers as well as the Indian Ocean;
  • Destruction of natural protection against floods such as mangroves; sea erosion;
  • Growing population pressure and industrial growth in the coastal areas and consequently, huge quantities of untreated waste flow.

2] Security threats

  • Security threats such as terrorism, piracy and tensions between countries caused by the arrests of fishermen who cross maritime boundaries are additional problems.
  • The problem of fishermen crossing into the territorial waters of neighbouring countries affect India and Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and Myanmar (also Pakistan on the west coast).

Way forward

1] Tap the blue economy potential of Bay of Bengal by creating a regional mechanism

  • There are many opportunities to develop maritime trade, shipping, aquaculture and tourism.
  • The BIMSTEC Summit must create a new regional mechanism for coordinated activities on maritime issues of a transboundary nature.
  • There is also a need for greater scientific research on the impact of climate change in general and on fisheries in particular.
  • Cooperation on marine research: At present, there is limited cooperation between countries of the region in marine research.
  • The use of modern technology and improved fishing practices can go a long way in restoring the health of the Bay.

2] Focus on the marine environmental protection

  • Marine environmental protection must become a priority area for cooperation in the Bay of Bengal.
  • Develop regional protocols: Regional protocols need to be developed and guidelines and standards on pollution control established.
  • Need for home-grown solutions: There is a need for home-grown solutions based on the capabilities of local institutions and for mutual learning through regional success stories.
  • Regional framework for data collection: There is a need to create regional frameworks for data collection.
  • Participatory approaches must be evolved for near-real-time stock assessment and the creation of a regional open fisheries data alliance.
  • The Bay of Bengal Programme (BOBP), an inter-governmental organisation based in Chennai, is doing good work to promote sustainable fishing.
  • A Bay Of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem (BOBLME) project is also being launched by the FAO with funding from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and others.
  • The BIMSTEC summit must express full support for both BOBP and BOBLME.
  • The summit must mandate officials to come up with measures to curtail unsustainable as well as IUU fishing.
  • Harmonisation of laws in littoral states: Laws and policies in littoral states must be harmonised and the humanitarian treatment of fishermen ensured during any encounter with maritime law enforcement agencies.

Conclusion

The challenges that confront the Bay of Bengal region brook no more delay. BIMSTEC must arise, awake and act before it is too late.

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