After two weeks of what one delegate termed "consciousness raising" on the international problems of water resources, the United Nations Water Conference adjourned Friday with blocs of developed and developing countries splitting victories on water-related policy resolutions.
Many of the 116 country delegations discovered at the conference, held in the Argentine seaside resort of Mar del Plata, that the development, control and use of fresh water can be a very hot international political issue.
At the same time, many took advantage of the forum to re-fight old battles cast in slightly different but still familiar form.
The developing countries, including most of black Africa and Latin America, passed resolutions aimed directly at Israel and white-dominated African countries condemning "colonial and alien domination" of water resources. They also called for a new U.S. panama Canal treaty that will permit Panama to "exercise its sovereign rights."
The developed countries, including the United States and the Soviet Union, blocked an African proposal to create a new international fund, at their expense, to finance water resource development in the Third World.
As with other U.N. conferences on population, environment and food, the purpose of the two-week conference was to raise global awareness of worldwide water management problems. Discussions covered droughts, floods, pollution, waterborne disease and irrigation, as well as the prediction of a global water supply crisis by the year 2000.
But the conferance high points concerned political issues between groups of nations, and soverign control over rivers and lakes that span national borders.
An Arab-Israeli dispute flared when the Israeli delegate objected to a speech by a representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Israeli was subsequently booed off the podium by Third World representatives. Later, during an Israeli speech on desalinization, an area in which Israel has developed considerable expertise, delegates from more than 70 countries left the room.
An Arab resolution denouncing Israel and Africa's aparthied nations for taking control of water resources away from "the use of indigenous peoples" - specifically the Jordan River in Israeli-occupied territory - passed in a general conference vote.
A resolution calling for an early U.S.-Panama Canal treaty passed by consensus. Lobbying to avoid an actual vote on the resolution, the United States said it interpreted the consensus as a "reaffirmation" of the principles of the 1974 Panama Canal treaty agreement.
The Soviet Union joined the United States and Western Europe in opposing an African resolution calling for creation of an international water fund to finance technical projects and water research.
Despite extensive African lobbying, the fund proposal won few supporters. A substitute resolution that eventually passed called for a study of ways to improve the effectiveness and coordination of existing water programs within established interantional organizations.
Localized battles also erupted between countries with shared rivers and lakes - India and Bangladesh over the Ganges River; among Turkey, Iraq and Syria over shared waterways, and among Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay over the Itaipu Dam on the Parana River. When completed, the dam will be the world's largest hydroelectric facility.