Saudi Arabia strenuous efforts to conserve and protect the environment are undeniable. One of the most important projects in this respect is Wadi Hanifah (Hanifah Valley) environmental rehabilitation project.
Wadi Hanifah (Hanifah Valley) gained the Riyadh Development Authority’s (RDA’s) interest for its strategic location as well as its investment capabilities. Stretching from Tuwaiq Escarpment to the open desert southeast of Riyadh with a total area of 120 km, Wadi Hanifah forms a matchless ecological region.
The strategic location of the Valley enabled it to work as a natural watershed for the floods and rainwater in an area of 4000 m2 with over 40 tributaries and a total amount of water equals 700,000 m3 annually. It is divided into five sections which are bed, floodplain, horizontal alluvial terraces, valleys and branches. Either side of the Valley, there are small and large villages—the locals of this region either work in agriculture or have their own arboretums, palm gardens, or farms. They are interested in planting grains, vegetables, and fruits. on the other hand, Wadi Hanifah is not free of historic and ancient buildings besides wells and dams.
With the aim of restoring the environmental stability to the region, making use of its natural resources, employing its potentials, and fulfilling the city’s needs of water, RDA implemented the rehabilitation process of this Valley. It’s noteworthy that Wadi Hanifah now is a major natural park with some districts and suburbs around the city. Above all, it now works again as a drain of rainwater as is the case before deterioration. All of these turns the Valley into an attraction site for tourism and investment opportunities.
The Valley before the project
Since there was an increasing demand for water, mineral resources, and construction aggregates due to the rapid growth of the Capital from the early 1970’s, it stretched out towards the Valley, especially along its west bank. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so long until water table levels were dropped well below sustainable limits by the 1980’s. The Valley’s landforms were severely damaged, its groundwater and surface water was contaminated, and its environmental balance, topographies, and soil formations were deteriorated because of mining and excavation activities and the uncontrolled dumping of the industrial, clinical and domestic waste.
The Comprehensive Rehabilitation Plan
RDA quickly moved to limit this deterioration and declared the Valley as an environmental reserve and a development area under its direct supervision in 1987. RDA set a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for the Valley and its tributaries starting with removing any abusive activities and uses, conserving the natural environment of the Valley, using it as a natural drainage course for Riyadh, preparing it to to become a recreational zone, broadening the cultivated lands, and rehabilitating the heritage assets.
The Project’s Achievements
Sooner, the plan succeeded and helped to restore the Valley as a natural drainage for rainwater, floods and surface water that flows from different sources of the city and make it also free from pollutants. Later, the Valley was well prepared as an open area with walkways, entertainment centers, and parks.
It wasn’t an easy mission as RDA exerted painstaking efforts to implement its master plan—the plan led to many achievements, including refining the watersheds and dividing them into three levels, creating a balance between the project’s requirements and the standard environmental criteria, adopting a new water treatment system depending on natural and non-chemical methods to create a perfect environment for the micro creatures as well as an annual reuse of the treated drained water in different agricultural, industrial and urban works.
Another essential achievement was building a bioremediation facility over an area of more than 100,000 m2 that provides the Valley with enough levels of dissolved oxygen to eliminate coliform bacteria, create livable conditions to microbes, fish and other aquatic organisms, reduce harmful parameters like suspended solids, organics, total phosphorous and fecal coliform and most importantly to create an aesthetic milestone in the heart of the Capital, Riyadh.
On another level, the project yielded a rearrangement of the public facilities included setting a passageway for every line of local service, build a wide new roadway on the side of the passageway yet apart from the center of the Valley to protect it from any floods.
Wadi Hanifah Environmental Rehabilitation Project was granted many world-renowned awards, of which we mention Waterfront Center (USA) Top Honor Award in 2003, Master Plan Presentation to United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development in 2004, “Highly Commended” award by the British Expertise Association in 2006, International Awards for Liveable Communities (livcom) Community Sustainability Award “Natural Projects” – Gold in 2007, and Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2010.
Wadi Hanifah is ready to welcome nature lovers
RDA didn’t lose sight of the need to green the Valley so it took some steps; the natural plant cover of the Valley was restored, afforestation process was performed by making use of groundwater resources and surface water, and many plants were cultivated including 30,000 desert trees, 7000 palms, 2000 desert trees, and another 5000 small trees.
In the prettiest places in the Valley, the pedestrian walks are extended for 47 Km and another rocky-paved pathway of 7.4 Km around magnificent rock formations, green areas, and streams. It is prepared to fit both pushchairs and wheelchairs movement. So many open parks were established in Wadi Hanifah including Elab Dam Park, Wadi Hanifahh Dam Park, Bioremediation Facility Park; Utaiqah, Al-Sadd Al-Hajari Dam Park, Factories’ Lake Park, and Al-Jaz’ah Lake Park.
RDA is pretty firm about preserving the historic locations, and protecting its architectural characteristics, so it set a group of the architectural regulations to organize the restoration and development of such places and oblige the locals to preserve the traditional architecture and heritage.
Ensuring a sustainable and healthy level of environmental preservation in Wadi Hanifah while keeping an eye on the pollution indicators of water, air, and soil were another concern of RDA, it set a bundle of strict environmental regulations. It also set an updated GIS database for Wadi Hanifah as a reference to RDA-conducted environmental studies on the Valley upon taking any future environmental decisions, an eye on any changes or violations.
Wadi Hanifah project is a spectacular model for its promising vision, achieving the sustainability in developing and conserving the environment, restoring the natural system and the Valley’s role in keeping the balance of environment, making use of the diversified natural resources and potentials, facilitating and encouraging investments, and taking into account the recreational side. RDA is going on with a group of the important environmental projects like Al-Hair Lakes, Wadi Namar Dam, Wadi Laban, the tributaries, natural reserves, and water recycling projects.