Harnessing potential of the blue economy

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By Ben Oduor

More than 70 percent of the globe is covered in water. And despite the aquatic world being centre of economic activity, enabling millions of households to make their livelihoods from activities such as fishing, shipping and tourism, harnessing the potential of oceanic resources has been a major challenge.

Plastic pollution, overfishing and maritime threats deals a heavy blow to the rich economic opportunities at the coast. Sources estimate that over five trillion items of plastics currently litter the oceans- approximately 12 million tonnes of plastics goes into the oceans annually.

According to Chatham House, a London-based non-governmental organization, one in ten fish caught in the water bodiesthat is not the species targeted by the fisherman is often thrown back into the ocean- usually dead- where it becomes waste.

As the earth’s population looks to grow from the current 7 billion to 9 billion over the coming 40 years, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says proper management of fisheries that ensures sustainable fishing stocks would be crucial in feeding the extra 2 billion people.

“Increasingly, people will live in cities. One in three people on the planet already live near the coast and the percentage is rising. Eight of the planet’s 10 biggest cities (such as Seoul, Tokyo, Osaka, New York, Sao Paulo, Mumbai, Jakarta and Shanghai)are by the sea. The coastal cities will play a crucial role in the blue economy,” OECD says.

Inside the blue economy

This sentiment is supported by the United Nations, which suggests that countries should green their coastal regions through the concept blue economy. The concept is about improving   human wellbeing and equality while reducing environmental risks and creating sustainable jobs.

It demands that people use local resources to strengthen a circular economy; take responsibility in decision making and to implement innovative technologies like transitioning to smart energy- which entails re-using and recycling products to save money and the planet.

According to World Bank, blue economy comprises a range of economic sectors and related policies that together determine whether the use of oceanic resources is sustainable. The concept, the global lender explains, has diverse components including established traditional ocean industries such as fisheries, tourism, and maritime transport.

Additionally, it has new and emerging activities like renewable energy, aquaculture, seabed extractive activities and maritime biotechnology. Proponents of the concept see a promising future in the oceans, with a capacity to provide desperately needed jobs.

The African Union believes blue economy is the “New Frontier of African Renaissance.” With 38 of Africa’s 54 states bordering the coast, the continent appears to have refocused its energy on harnessing the potential of its lakes, oceans, seas and rivers.

For instance, in Kenya’s third largest city Kisumu, UN-Habitat has partnered with the County Government to initiate the Lakefront Planning and Redevelopment. The initiative is projected to attract significant trade and investment opportunities in addition to extending the spatial boundaries of the city’s business district.

First global blue economy conference in Kenya

On the other hand, the UN body has pledged to support the ‘first ever global Sustainable Blue Economy Conference (SBEC)’between November 26th and 28thin Nairobi, following intense lobbying by the Kenyan government.

SBEC conference will focus on two pillars; the first on Sustainable, Climate Change and Controlling Pollution while the secondon Production, Accelerated economic growth, Jobs and Poverty alleviation.

Addressing Kenyan officials during the conference’s pledging session in Nairobi early this year, Maimunah Mohd Sharif, the Executive Director for UN Habitat said the organization’s support for SBEC conference would include technical demonstration of innovative models that guide planning of coastal cities and towns.

UN-Habitat, she said, would use the conference to mobilise member states with coastlines, lakes and rivers to participate and share their experiences.

They would also use the platform to call on experts in urban planning and design, municipal finance and local economic development, urban basic services with experience of water-front planning and management to participate in the Blue Economy Conference so as to share their knowledge in the concept.

On his part, Macharia Kamau, Kenya’s Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs said the Ministerial Conference will provide a forum to advance the global conversation on sustainable development of the Blue Economy.

The conference, he said, presents immense opportunities for the growth of the country’s economy especially sectors such as fisheries, tourism, maritime transport, off-shore mining, among others, in a way that land economy has failed to do.

“The Blue Economy is a frontier for development as we move to tap into the productive capacity of our water resources and empower communities in a sustainable way as we build our economy,” the PS said, adding: “Historically, great civilizations and empires have been built around and through resources from lakes, rivers, seas and oceans.”

Such resounding support for the new concept appears to have reverberated down to tourist associations. In an exclusive interview with the East African Business Times, Julius Owino, Chief Executive for Kenya Coastal Tourism Association (KCTA) disclosed that Kenya’s coastal counties were yet to fully benefit from resources around the Indian Ocean; this despite the many idle opportunities in the region.

He urged coastal county governments to fully explore the potential of the ocean as this would enable households in the region benefit from jobs in the hotel business, boat making and tour guide and management, whilst innovating ways of managing the aquatic resources.

Echoing his sentiments, Tim Smith, the founder of HVS, a leading hospitality and tourism consultancy firm in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), adds that administrators should extend more resources to developing quality infrastructure.

With direct flights from Kenya to America soon to be launched and construction of a cruise ship terminal underway in Mombasa, the region is expected to receive more tourists, most of who will expect to operate through a developed communication and road network to their preferred destinations, Smith says.

“However, this also means creating more awareness and cohesion between the visitors and the public on how they can manage the oceanic resources for sustainable development as there are so many economic activities yet to be explored in the sector,” the chartered surveyor adds.

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