National apex bodies (B3.02)


Because water is used in so many sectors, responsibility for it is most often shared between a number of bodies (e.g. ministries for irrigation, environment, and public works). However, as each institution has its own vested interests these may not be able to operate easily together. Apex bodies (also sometimes called National Water Resources Councils) are set up, so that there is a central actor on water management issues that can co-ordinate and ease out the tensions between these various country-level actors.

Apex bodies consist of a range of entities such as high level steering groups within national governments, inter-agency task forces (for specific purposes, e.g. water pollution control), and international consortia for the management of water resources. The composition and structure of National Water Resources Councils need to evolve over time and their technical capacity must reflect the most pressing issues.

Their advisory powers range from broad planning strategies (e.g. policies on national water resources and inter-basin diversions) to project specific recommendations (e.g. flood control controls, invasive species, prevention mechanisms, and irrigation schemes). National Apex bodies are normally responsible for the following set of functions:

  • Formulate a national action plan that makes specific recommendations regarding the regulatory frameworks and which may also touch upon reforms in institutional arrangements and information systems;
  • Orient and facilitate the above reform processes in ways that good water governance can be further fostered;
  • Build discussion forums that allows for meaningful talks on water related policies between the various managing and funding parties.

Setting up a national Apex body is no easy task. It requires that all participating national partners accept the role and mandate of the Apex body. In order to avoid conflict of authority, is important that clear distinctions are specifically made between the Apex body and the Ministry of Water. Water Ministries are not cross sectoral institutions and thus can act as replacement for Apex bodies. Similar to most public institutions there is a need for accountability and the Apex body should, in that sense, also reach out to promote public participation.

Lessons learned

Although successful experience to date in establishing robust and respected Apex bodies is limited, there are still few key points to be reminded here:

  • Water touches many different sectors and therefore its management is normally shared among different stakeholders. Apex bodies are effective institutions ensuring that conflict of vested interests do not impede with the end goal of good water governance.
  • Conflict Management (C5.04) and awareness raising techniques (C8) are important tools used by Apex bodies.
  • National Water Resources Council should be able to do recommendations on broad planning schemes just as much on project specific developments, i.e. its range should not be limited to one or to the other.
  • Its technical capacity needs to be adapted to the issues at stake and its structural composition must be able to evolve over time.
  • For an Apex body to function effectively, all the stakeholders who are under its jurisdiction need to develop commitment to it and ensure it has appropriate powers.
  • Establishment of a successful Apex body can be a slow process, since it takes time for a new institutional entity to achieve legitimacy. The effectiveness of an Apex body is always linked to the specific political and historical context.
  • Apex bodies act on an institutional level while water ministries concentrate on the resource management per se. They should not be thought as mutually replaceable but rather as an indispensable pair.