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Indian Ocean Region and its Blue Economy Imperatives

The Indian Ocean region (IOR) is known for its rich coastal and marine resources; it is vast and varied in its topography, resources, flora and fauna and is known for its cultural diversity and vibrant countries. Indian Ocean nations generated 10% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), which was little less than US$78 trillion in 2014 (The World Bank, 2015), up from a long-term average of about 6–7%. 

While the remainder of the world’s economic output is important, it eclipses that of the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean waters contribute eminently to the world trade and economy, as it can boast of some of the emerging and established economic powerhouses. With major Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOC) in its frontiers, the Indo-Pacific region is the mainstay of global maritime trade. The Blue Economy offers an exceptional opportunity for development, but only if it is planned and implemented with an awareness of the associated obstacles. 

Maritime Tourism has been a major component in the Blue Economy development of model oil and natural gas (OECD, 2030). The region heavily depends on tourism and developing nations are emphasizing the harnessing of the unexplored potential of tourism development. Since the region’s defining feature is water and maritime security, equipment, trade, and transport take the spotlight, maritime tourism is overlooked despite the industry’s huge potential and its ability to stabilize the region. In recent times the geopolitical landscape of the Indian Ocean region has witnessed a dramatic shift due to the increased presence of several western powers, everyone trying to establish their hegemony. Free and open Indian Ocean is the key to inclusive growth and development of all the countries positioned in the region.  Diplomacy and bilateral ties with littorals play an important role in this service industry’s growth because Tourism is a uniquely international phenomenon.

It is important to understand how diversifying economies beyond land-based activities and along coastlines are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and delivering smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth in developing nations of the Indian Ocean Region. It counts several island and coastal countries in the region with low and lower-middle-income levels, for whom the oceans represent a significant jurisdictional area and a source of livelihood. In those countries, growth and innovation in the coastal, marine, and maritime industries can deliver food, energy, and transportation, among other products and services, and pave the way for long-term development. 

A significant number of developing coastal and island nations rely heavily on tourism and fisheries for a significant portion of their GDP and public revenues. Coastal tourism is a core component of the economies of small island developing states and some least developed countries. While the advantages of the Blue Economy in addressing environmental threats and raising economic growth are well known, blue pursuits will also stabilize the ocean space while re-establishing the Rules-Based Order (RBO) and creating significant influence. 

Numerous constraints on the Blue Economy’s development potential are a result of natural and man-made hazards. Aquatic ecosystems have been viewed and treated as limitless resources and largely cost-free waste disposal sites for much of human history. These resources, however, are anything but inexhaustible, and the consequences of this approach are becoming increasingly clear. These are evident by increasing pressure on islands for tourism infrastructure facilities, loss of marine resources, waste management disposal, environmental threats, extinction of fishing communities to name a few. The impact of climate change is already visible in the region with the highest concentration of world population and majority of them being socio-economically vulnerable. Moreover, the region is the world’s hotspot for natural disasters, extreme weather events and sea level is on the rise. The emergence of global health crises such as COVID 19, exacerbates these vulnerabilities, and the changing climate also contributes to disease spread. 

The Asia-Pacific which we know as Indo-Pacific region that includes South Asia, South-East Asia, East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Small Island Developing Countries depend heavily on their blue resources. The region comprises economies that are developed, developing, and least developed countries (LDCs). About 13 Asian countries are least developed, with 9 of them having island or coastal economies. 

The significance of the Blue Economy in pursuing sustainable economic, political, and security development in the Indian Ocean Region is best evidenced by the Indian Ocean Rim Association’s (IORA) increased focus on strengthening the Blue Economy in its agenda. The disparity in member states’ capacities is a challenging issue that requires to be addressed through concrete initiatives to conserve the ocean resources. 

IORA participating countries have a broad range of social and economic prowess and competencies. Their socio-economic indicators vary considerably despite their difference and diversity, these economies are connected by the Indian Ocean, and they are all committed to strengthening the region’s continued growth and balanced development, as well as creating a common ground for regional economic cooperation. 

Even though the Indian Ocean economies are thriving and making efforts to leverage their blue potential, this oceanic space still has a lot to explore that is waiting to be unearthed. Fisheries sector forms the core of the Blue Economy in the region, being a source of food and livelihood for millions of people and coastal communities. A complete analysis of all facets of the Blue Economy would close data gaps, coordinate operations, and offer policymakers a shred of actual evidence for implementing the Blue Economy in the region.

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