Today we share the article written by Diego Dorado, for La Silla Llena about the opportunity that Colombia has regarding the sustainable development of its oceans and how hanessing the maritime potential can be an engine for the reactivation of the post-pandemic economy.
We must take advantage of Colombia’s maritime potential
Our maritime potential is wasted. Taking advantage of it would benefit: 47 municipalities, 12 departments, and, in general, the entire country. But we must overcome at least three challenges: awareness, knowledge, and institutional coordination. A post-covid alternative.
“The sea is everything. It covers seven-tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never alone, because he feels life on all sides”
World Ocean Day is celebrated on June 8. A moment to reflect on all that the sea has given us and will give us. Time to think about Colombia’s maritime potential, especially when the national development plan has an Oceans chapter and recently the Conpes -National Council for Economic and Social Policy-, a kind of ministerial cabinet specialized in policy issues, approved the document 3990 known as “Colombia Sustainable Bioceanic Power 2030”.
The words: Power and Biooceanic attract attention. It is not for less. Colombia is one of the few countries in the world that has two seas, in total we are 21 countries. But it is the only one in South America.
Additionally, and thanks to our seas that cover a little more than 950 thousand square kilometers, Colombia limits with 11 countries, and not only 5, as in the primary many times they made us repeat. A quick survey carried out by the Colombian Commission of the Ocean to university students, identified that 64 percent of students from cities in the interior of the country believed that Colombia limits with 5 countries, while 49 percent of students from coastal cities think the same.
But our potential is not only in the extension and the limits. Today, about 5 million Colombians live in the 47 municipalities that have a coast, distributed in 12 different departments. Four of these in the Pacific, seven in the continental Caribbean and one in the insular Caribbean, a condition that has led some to call Colombia “a country with three coasts” (Red Ibemar).
The curious thing about this description is that, among these departments, there is one that has a coast in the two oceans, Chocó; another, not being from the Caribbean Region, has an important port for the country’s exports, Antioquia; and one with island characteristics, which, although it is known for its beautiful beaches and tourism, its potential is clearly superior thanks to the fact that it houses the Seaflower maritime reserve, one of the largest and richest on the planet.
Without a doubt, great potential. Unfortunately, we don’t take advantage of it. When we talk about the sea, we immediately think of two things: the beach and fishing. The beach, representing tourism, is undoubtedly one of the main economic activities that take place next to the sea. But how well are we prepared to take advantage of it? An interesting analysis is made in the Conpes document, concluding that there is still much to work on. For example, of the 47 municipalities, only 13 meet the conditions required by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, and Tourism for the development of this industry. Topics like bilingualism and customer service require a lot of work.
The other topic is fishing, a food source for many on the planet. However, in Colombia, it weighs little on GDP, an indicator that we economists use to measure how much is produced in a country. Its contribution to GDP reaches 0.2 percent, but of this only 22.9 percent is from sea fishing. In terms of dimensions, and analyzed on the total tons of fish, fishing in Ecuador is 9 times greater than that of Colombia, and that of Peru is 19.5 times. The curious thing is that these two neighboring countries have a single sea and in the case of Ecuador a coastline equivalent to a third of the Colombian.
The sea certainly has great potential. According to WWF, the world’s oceans could generate revenues of close to $ 2.5 trillion a year, making the Ocean the seventh-largest economy in the world. This income is given by measuring its potential in fishing, tourism, and maritime trade. I do not include the potential income that could be given, among others, by mining and hydrocarbons, only with significant exploitation off the Guajira coast in the Chuchupa and Ballenas gas fields, since the 1970s; and some exploration activity some years ago in other areas, with which the potential is much greater.
But for Colombia to take advantage of this great potential, in fishing, tourism, trade, mining, power generation, among others, it must face three major challenges: awareness, knowledge, and institutionality. And this without mentioning the environmental issue, particularly that of coastal erosion, which affects 40 percent of our 3,330 kilometers of coastline.
The first is to become aware of the importance of the sea for us. Today maritime and related activities only reach 5.8 percent of GDP. Value that falls to 0.49 percent of GDP, when this figure is purified, leaving only fishing, water transport and shipyards, as mentioned in Conpes 3990. This greater awareness must be accompanied by more information, a task where the Dane could collaborate by creating an ocean satellite account.
The second is associated with understanding how municipalities affect maritime development and how it affects them. We know that we have 47 coastal municipalities, but we do not ask ourselves how many municipalities are directly related to the sea? If we cross the coastal municipalities with the functional subregions used by National Planning to identify relationships between municipalities -switches-, we will find that these municipalities interact with 92 more. Therefore, when we talk about municipalities associated with the sea, we should talk about 138, not just 47.
And how are these municipalities? The statistics, although criticized, are hard. The 47 coastal municipalities have lower secondary education coverage than the national average. That is, while the national average is 40.7 percent, in these municipalities it is 28.2 percent. In sewerage, the situation is similar. This situation is further aggravated when analyzing the difference that exists between the municipalities in the Pacific, the Caribbean or the insular Caribbean.
And the third challenge is in institutional coordination. At the national level, much has been achieved thanks to the silent and prudent leadership of the Colombian Ocean Commission -CCO-, but there is still much to be achieved. But in terms of nation-department-municipality-university-private sector coordination, there is still much to work on.
Today we ask ourselves how to reactivate the country’s economy. Well, we have an alternative in front of us. We should think about how to face these challenges and include their actions in the reactivation strategies. The municipalities that are still adjusting their development plans, or those that having approved them have not yet finished landing their reactivation strategies, should think of the sea. This offers them food, work, commerce, knowledge, recreation and who knows what else. For all this, there is no need to reinforce the support to these municipalities by the CCO, the DNP or the Esap, and why not, a revision of the laws that promote maritime development from Congress.