'We have records of the water and history of seven dying rivers – Buritista, Ghoramara, Jamuneshwari, Karatoya, Kherua, Mahananda and Atrai – in the museum, so people can learn how their lives depend on the rivers and how they need to be protected'
The country’s first ever water museum is conserving samples from 82 waterways including all trans-boundary rivers of Bangladesh, as well as water from rivers of Nepal and Myanmar, in order to highlight the importance of protecting rivers.
Located in Pakhimara Bazar area of Kolapara upazila in the coastal district of Patuakhali, the museum began its journey on December 29, 2014 under the assistance of non-governmental aid agency ActionAid Bangladesh.
In addition to water samples, the museum showcases items representing culture and heritage of riverine country, photos of people’s connection to rivers, the symbol of a boat stuck on dry river bed, and also digital resources on water management.
“We want to make people aware of how the country’s rivers are going to die and how the river water is getting polluted,” Shamsher Ali, manager (program, policy and campaign) of ActionAid Bangladesh, said.
“We have records of the water and history of seven dying rivers – Buritista, Ghoramara, Jamuneshwari, Karatoya, Kherua, Mahananda and Atrai – in the museum, so people can learn how their lives depend on the rivers and how they need to be protected.”
The museum also exhibits different kinds of handicrafts and artefacts produced in river floodplain areas, books and publications, and a big map on the wall showing all the rivers of Bangladesh including trans-boundary rivers and other water architectures.
During a visit to the museum, the Dhaka Tribune correspondent met with Rahil Hossain, a local visitor. “It is very good to see the water of all the rivers in our country together. I am searching for the water of my region,” Rahil said.
Appreciating the move, another visitor Anwarul Alam said: “From the colour of the water, I understand how the rivers of our country are being polluted. We must protect our rivers right away.”
Bangladesh is predominantly a riverine country with around 800 rivers flowing through it and over 100 trans-boundary rivers connecting the country with Nepal, India, Bhutan, China and Myanmar.
“Our lives will be endangered if we do not protect rivers,” Sabitri Pokharel, adviser of Mahila Adhikar Manch, Nepal said. “I came here with bottles of water from my country so that they can be preserved in the water museum of Bangladesh.”
A model museum
After visiting the museum, water experts from Nepal, India and China said they would take initiatives to open similar museums in their respective countries to raise awareness about water and river protection.
“China is setting up a water museum like the Bangladesh one, which will be launched in May this year,” Prof Dr Liyan Zhang from Tianjin University in China said.
“A group of university students are conducting research on the rivers of China and working on developing the museum.”
Dhaka University international relations department Professor Dr Imtiaz Ahmed said Thailand and Nepal are also planning to build water museums following the model of Bangladesh.
“We have to raise awareness among the next generation about the need for saving our rivers,” he said. “Parents should also be made aware of it, because people will not survive if the rivers are not saved. Initiatives like the water museum can help in this regard.”
ActionAid said the museum is the first of its kind in South Asia, and will help to expand the thinking on the protection of rivers and water resources.
“ActionAid has made this water museum in a small area, but the museum is trying to make the change in a bigger scale,” ActionAid Bangladesh Country Director Farah Kabir said. “Through this museum, we want to show our total river tradition to people.”
Parliament Chief Whip ASM Feroz said the museum could be relocated so that many more people can see the history of the country’s riverine tradition.
“Five acres of land will be arranged in Kalapara for the water museum soon,” he said. l