The Bay of Bengal has been of great political, economic, and cultural importance to the countries that surround it for thousands of years. Maritime trade, fishing, and tourism are some of the most important economic activities carried out around the Bay of Bengal. As a result, the region around the bay is one of the most populated regions on earth. Countries that surround the Bay of Bengal are home to a quarter of the global population. The coastal regions of Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Sumatra, and Malaysia have a total population of 0.5 billion people. Dhaka, Bangladesh has the highest population of all cities of the littoral countries, with a total population of over 18.89 million people. Many Asian countries depended on the Bay of Bengal for their respective economic growths. Countries that are dependent on the Bay are classified into two main groups, littoral countries, and landlocked regions and countries. Additionally, other countries are dependent on the Bay but do not fall under any of the two classifications, and these are Singapore, Maldives, and Malaysia.
By definition, littoral countries are the nations that are found along the coast of the Bay of Bengal. The littoral countries of the Bay of Bengal are Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Myanmar, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Bangladesh is home to the region of Bengal from where the Bay gets its name. The country is dependent on the bay, and its capital city, Dhaka is the largest city in the Bay. The city hosts the “Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Corporation” (BIMSTEC), a regional trade bloc. Sri Lanka is also heavily reliant on the Bay of Bengal, particularly in its shipping and tourism industries. The island nation is home to the bay’s busiest port, the Port of Colombo. The Bay of Bengal is also beneficial to India, which has some of its busiest ports along the Bay of Bengal.
The Kingdom of Bhutan relies on the Bay of Bengal for its maritime trade, but since it is landlocked, the country uses India’s Port of Kolkata and the Port of Chittagong in Bangladesh. China also relies on the Myanmar coastline along the Bay of Bengal for its oil imports, which are transported through the Sino-Myanmar pipelines. The northern-eastern part of India also fits this classification as it relies on Bangladesh’s Port of Chittagong for maritime trade. Nepal is dependent on the Bay of Bengal, relying on ports of India and Bangladesh for maritime trade.
China has the largest economy of the countries surrounding the Bay of Bengal, with a GDP of over $22 trillion. Shipping is the most important economic activity around the bay, with Sri Lanka’s Port of Colombo being the region’s busiest port, handling an estimated 5 million TEUs of container traffic annually. The second-busiest port in the bay is Bangladesh’s Port of Chittagong that handles about 2.2 million TEUs each year. India is home to the third, fourth and fifth busiest ports in the Bay, which are the Port of Chennai, the Port of Kolkata and the Tuticorin Port Trust, respectively. However, the biggest employer in the region is fishing, with over 10 million people engaging in fishing. Fishing is a popular economic activity in India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia, and Thailand. In Bangladesh, fishing accounts for 15% of the nation’s exports. Coastal aquaculture and the introduction of new motorized fishing vessels are some of the developments that are witnessed in the fishing industry in the Bay. The Bay of Bengal is believed to harbor oil reserves of immense proportions and has several ongoing exploration projects. Some oil platforms in the Bay have even started production such as the Reliance Industries offshore platform India.
Another important industry in the Bay of Bengal is tourism. Countries around the Bay are renowned for their natural tropical beauty, and sandy beaches. Thailand leads in the tourism dependency on the Bay of Bengal, as the country is home to the most popular tourist destination in the Bay of Bengal, its Andaman Coast which is frequented by thousands of tourists each year. Cultural and historic sites particularly ancient Buddhist temples and statues are also popular tourist attractions in the region. There are three different economic and trade blocs that are situated on the Bay of Bengal; SAARC, ASEAN, and the BIMSTEC.
The Bay of Bengal sits on a region with tectonic activity, and therefore is susceptible to earthquakes. The Bay has experienced some of the most deadly natural disasters in human history, including the 2004 Indian Tsunami that devastated the coastal regions of most of the surrounding countries. The Bay has also witnessed deadly cyclones in modern history such as the Bhola Cyclone of 1970 that left widespread destruction in its wake. Other destructive cyclones recorded in the Bay of Bengal include Cyclone Nargis and Cyclone Sidr.
A recent issue in the Bay of Bengal region was the 2015 Rohingya refugee crisis, a humanitarian crisis that saw hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar where they faced persecution by the government, and settling in neighboring countries in the Bay of Bengal. The sudden influx of refugees in surrounding countries such as Bangladesh and Thailand burdened the governments which had to facilitate the provision of food and shelter to the refugees. Some countries of the Bay of Bengal are also engaged in maritime territorial disputes, which have affected diplomatic relations. Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar, and India have in the recent past tussled over maritime boundaries.
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