The countless rivers crisscrossing the landscape of Bangladesh are said to be its lifeblood, and almost every human settlement in this low-lying delta since ancient times has taken hold and grown along rivers.
Their impact on the socio-economic sphere, and on its culture, can never be overlooked. Right down to the courtesy of acknowledging each river or tributary by its gender, as gleaned from its name.
The country is also home to countless beels, and the haors and baors in the country’s northern half are unique ecosystems known for their astonishingly rich biodiversity and further entrench its people’s relationship with water, the source of all life in the universe.
As if to cement the depth and importance of the special relationship, Bangladesh also holds the distinction of hosting the first museum in Asia that is dedicated to water.
The museum, situated in Pakhimara village of Nilganj union of Patauakhali Upazila, has a collection of water extracted from 87 rivers from Bangladesh and other international rivers in transparent glass jars. It also holds the short history of those rivers.
Established on December 29, 2014, by Action Aid Bangladesh (AAB), the museum is currently run by Kalapara Coastal Public Welfare Association with support from Avas, a private development organisation.
The premises feature a wooden boat set on sand with two wood sculptures of Ghazal fishes sitting on the base of the boat. The entire exhibition space across two floors of a tin-shed amounts to just 500 square feet, but in that you get the water samples, various photographs and fishing equipment to showcase the traditional water-dependent culture of the Bengal region.
Notable of these are fishnets, jhanki net, chai, sails, crab hunting tool, clay-made bowls, pots, utensils, and bamboo baskets, etc. The walls of the museum have been decorated with pictures of canals and rivers, fish of different species, fishermen and potters, as well as scenes of coastal people's livelihoods.
The Water Museum contains information on the history of the 700 rivers of Bangladesh alongside several photographs depicting adverse reactions to the environment due to climate change. It also holds detailed information about 57 transborder rivers of the country.
The museum is slowly gaining the attention of tourists heading to Kuakata sea beach as it sees a crowd of 150-200 visitors per day on average.
One of them, Rifat, said he strayed from his tour plan and made time after hearing about this museum from the locals.
“They told me it was one of the tourist spots before visiting the beach so I decided to take a look and I must say I’m not disappointed,” he told UNB.
Rifat also mentioned that the museum needs to be visited for everyone to understand the importance of rivers.
According to Action Aid Bangladesh sources, the establishment of the museum has evolved to counter the lack of adequate initiatives to protect the rivers across South Asian nations as the bilateral treaties and government policies on water management do not look at water from a holistic point of view.
They intend to uphold the issue of rivers and their water outside political bias and encourage re-imagining river from a humane and ecological point of view.
Officials in charge of the water museum said that after the museum was established, the arrival of tourists is increasing day by day.
Avas Executive Director Rahima Sultana Kajal told UNB the rivers are endangered and coastal people are among the most affected.
“We have to take initiatives now to protect water resources. And that's why we have to be aware. That is why this water museum was built to spread the awareness,” she said.
She also suggested that if the government moved the water museum to Kuakata on their own initiative the number of visitors would increase.
“People from all walks of life will be able to gain knowledge about rivers and value their contributions," she added.
The museum is open from 10 am to 7 pm six days a week, being closed on Tuesday. The fee for the visitors has been fixed at only Tk 10.