Wadi (Valley) Hanifa History and Geographic



This paper posits to investigate the history and current state of the Wadi Hanifah, also referred to as the Hanifah Valley. The Wadi Hanifa is the most important and longest Wadi (valley) in the vicinity of Riyadh. In the arid region of Najd located in central Saudi Arabia, it is an exceptional natural geographical feature. The Wadi is a natural water drainage route which is fed by numerous offshoots for an area of approximately 4,000 km². It flows to the south-east from the north-west, passing via the western boundaries of Riyadh in its central part. From this central point, the Wadi includes an uninterrupted watercourse due to the every day release of 650,000 cubic meters of raw as well as treated water (Al-Homaidan 25). This uninterrupted water flow has produced a unique phenomenon of all-year around green areas in a scorched environment. Until recent times, sections of Wadi Hanifah, particularly those neighboring Riyadh, had been utilized in a destructive and environmentally disparaging manner. Sections of the Wadi were exploited as dumping grounds for garbage, while other sections were mined for stone or harvesting of sand (Zawahri 4).

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As a result, substantial portions of the Wadi have been disfigured and polluted while other sections of its landscape have been extensively altered. The natural water flow in several locations has been blocked, thus producing stagnant pools as well as marshy environments.

Wetlands in the south of the Wadi are principally well-liked for recreational purposes such as fishing, picnics, and swimming. As a result of the wanton degradation of the Wadi, the Higher Commission for the Development of Arriyadh, also referred to as the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA), carried out comprehensive studies of Wadi Hanifah. The rationale of the study was to develop a strategy for the rehabilitation of the wadi (Vidal 6).


 Climatic Conditions. Rainfall in this area is quite limited and averages at approximately 85mm annually. Over 50% of that amount comes about in March and April. The temperatures in the Riyadh region range from 6.4°C on average in January to 42.9°C on average in July.

The Historical Background. The Wadi Hanifah is of significant historical value. It derives its name from the people of Bani Hanifah, who inhabited the Wadi at some point in the 5th century AD. The wadi is a substantial productive strip that in the past served as an agricultural hub, supporting human settlements in its vicinity. The Wadi Hanifa It also holds a big number of heritage sites that include human settlements, defensive towers and walls, as well as dams. Several of the historical structures in the Wadi are built of sun-dried mud bricks, although locally mined stone is also extensively utilized. Among the most significant heritage sites found in the Wadi is Al Dir’iyyah, the native land of Al Sa’ud, the Saudi Arabian royal family (Wilhite 59).

 Site and Surroundings. The Wadi Hanifah extends for approximately 120 km in length. It has a depth that varies from 10 to 100 meters and its breadth varies from 100 meters to 1 km at its widest fringes. It offers a natural drainage route for over 4,000 m² of open area found along its span. A series of approximately forty smaller offshoots, referred to as sha’ibs, drain their water into the Wadi Hanifah and these tributaries can be approximately 25 km long. These tributaries include, Wabir,

Al Ubaytah, Safar, Al ‘Ammariyyah, Al Mahdiyya, Laban, Al Awsat, Laha, and Nammar. The tributaries located at the eastern side include Batha’, and Al Aysan. In cross-section the deepest part of the Wadi is located in the centre. This is where the watercourse is positioned. This is surrounded on both sides by a level area typified by deposits of clay soil as a result of flooding in the Wadi and able to sustain several agricultural as well as grazing activities. The level areas are broader in the middle and northern parts than in the southern parts (Kassas 125).

State of the Wadi Before and After Contamination. The Wadi Hanifah is segmented into five zones by its development strategy plan. The five zones are based on disparities in the ecosystem and levels of latest exploitation and resultant environmental degradation. The two least developed sections of the Wadi are located at the north of Riyadh. These sections comprise of several traditional settlements as well as farmlands. The traditional city of Al Dir’iyyah is found in this area (Philby 62). These zones are generally well utilized and have not been degraded as other sections parts of the Wadi. The most prevalent forms of degradation in the Wadi result from mining, dumping, as well as pollution. In these two zones primarily hold private farms which are not subjected to the contaminated water that drains into the Wadi further south. Their comparative distance from Riyadh also plays a considerable function in this regard (Danhof 62).

The third zone crosses through the western sections of Riyadh. The urban part of the Wadi expands from the Al ‘Ilb dam in the north to the region of Al Masani’ in the south. This is the most degraded section of the Wadi due to the numerous environmentally disparaging activities that occur in this region. Quarrying and dumping are the most prevalent in this region as a result of the establishment of a variety of light manufacturing projects (Philby 65). The prevalence of a variety of unrestrained construction activities, as well as the discharge of contaminated water into the Wadi also contributes immensely to the environmental degradation of the Wadi.

The fourth and fifth zones expand southwards from the region of Al Masani’. Although less contaminated than the third zone, this fourth zone however, suffers from the release of contaminated water, which results from numerous activities, including the tannery. The fifth zone expands from Al Ha’ir dam, which has a holding capacity of two million cubic meters, to the end of the Wadi. This zone is also referred to as the ‘Lakes Area’. This part of the Wadi receives an uninterrupted release of water. Since the building of the Al Manfuha treatment station, the primary water treatment plant in Riyadh, approximately two-thirds of the released water in the Wadi has been treated to tertiary degrees. Water that is untreated water also finds its way into the Wadi. Nevertheless, by the time the water reaches the fifth zone, it is comparatively well filtered and a substantial amount of its organic dissipate has been removed by means of natural oxygenation processes. The reed beds that grow along the waterway supply physical filtering and hence oxygenate the water (Murray 109).

On the other hand, in the fourth and fifth zones, there are issues of water stagnation as well as the resultant creation of swampy conditions. The region ends in a sequence of substantial interlinked lakes. A diversity of paved and unpaved infrastructure crisscrosses the Wadi.  A number of the roads are used as throughways linking areas alongside the two parts of the Wadi. The comparatively high level of traffic in the Wadi has resulted in problems that relate to air pollution. A variety of vehicle lubricants are poorly disposed of, particularly in the central section of the Wadi. The Wadi has incredible prospects as a recreational space for Riyadh people. In effect, the southern sections of the Wadi are quite popular with picnics. Regrettably, no services are offered for the people who go out for picnics in the Wadi. There is also the absence of regulation regarding issues like cleanliness and hygiene and sections of the Wadi, particularly in the south, demonstrate the impact of heavy littering from persons who utilize the Wadi for picnics (Homer 62).

The Wadi Hanifah Development Project. The wide-ranging development plan consisted of five interlinked components. The first was environmental classification. This constituent aimed at establishing the ecological characteristics of the diverse zones of the Wadi. It provided mechanisms that would ascertain the Wadi’s ecological sustainability, and create a structure for positive and sustainable interface between the Wadi and the Riyadh city (United Nations Development Program 20). The second component emphasized issues that relate to management of water-demand. The release of water into the Wadi is projected to increase from the present 650,000 m³per day to 2,000,000 m³ per day in the next two decades. This component of the project aims to address the problem of the rising amount of contaminated water being released into Wadi Hanifa. This is from diverse sources such as the slaughterhouse and the tannery. The management of water-demand would offer answers to the problems of swampy conditions. Additionally this component focuses on implementation of natural oxygenation processes for the water that passes through the Wadi (Haddadin 4).

The third constituent of the plan included putting in place efficient land-use plans. The objective was to end improper and contaminating land utilization such as mining, dumping as well as industrial activities that discharged contaminated water into the Wadi. This component also dealt with the severe and chronic problem of private encroachment on public land in the Wadi (Amery 3). The project would allow recreational, agricultural, touristic and residential utilization, as long as these do not cause environmental degradation. In addition, significant sections of the Wadi would be confirmed secluded historical or natural zones (Wenche 90).

The fourth constituent of the plan concentrated on rehabilitating the Wadi and rehabilitating its previous ecological balance. This included execution of physical works like clearing sections that were subjected to dumping as well as filling up open quarries. This constituent would also put into operation the redesigning of the infrastructure in the Wadi in order to eradicate air pollution from automobiles and minimize several other harmful environmental impacts (Wolf 51).

The fifth component of the project dealt with the issue of regulating development in the Wadi. This included implementing a monitoring program that would follow up on the environmental effects of the activities that occur in the Wadi. It would also monitor the water quality in the Wadi. This component of the project offers a check and balance system for the different other components in the project (Al-Nuaim 5).


The Wadi provides several opportunities. It offers a spectacular and substantial green area that comprises of several heritage sites. It has prospects of offering high-quality and reachable recreational, cultural, touristic as well as environmentally preserved regions that may serve the population of Riyadh and tourists from other places. If sustainable development policies are implemented, the resultant arrangement would significantly improve the Riyadh’s quality of life. The Wadi has the ability to sustain income generating activities that would relate to recreation and tourism. This would provide numerous employment opportunities for the population. It would also sustain considerable agricultural activities, which would provide income streams and food. It is noteworthy that there is a need to shield the Wadi agricultural regions from urban sprawl.


Works Cited

Al-Homaidan, S. Water Chemistry & Algal Vegetation in Saudi Arabian Reservoirs. IA: Iowa       University Press, 2009. Print.

Al-Nuaim, M.  Profile of the Contemporary Development of Riyadh. Royal Embassy of Saudi      Arabia. 2 (2010): 5. Print.

Amery, H. Water Conflicts in the Middle East: Looming Threats. The Geographical Journal. 45 (2010).3. Print.

Danhof, C. Revolutionizing Agriculture: The Agricultural Press. N.Y: Columbia Press, 2004.        Print.

Haddadin, F. Water & the Peace Process. Geographical Journals. 168 (2009):4. Print.

Homer, T. Environment, Scarcity, & Violence. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2009. Print.

Kassas, M. Ecology & Desertification Management: Geographic Perspectives. 29 (2009): 125.      Print.

Murray, R. Rivers of Fire: The clash over Water in the Middle East. Lanham: Rowman &   Littlefield. 2010. Print.

Philby, W.  Southern Najd. Geographical Journals. 45 (2010): 62–65. Print.

United Nations Development Program. Human Development Reports 2009: Poverty, Power &     the Global Water Crisis. N.Y: Palgrave, 2009. Print.

Vidal, P. What the Arab World Does When Its Water Dries Out: The Observer.23 (2011): 6.        Print.

Wenche, E. Casual Trails to Conflict. Boulder: Westview Press, 2010. Print.

Wilhite, S. Understanding Drought Phenomenon. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. 2010. Print.


Wolf, A. Conflict & Cooperation in Global Waterways. Water Policies. 1 (2010): 51. Print.

Zawahri, M. Stabilizing Riyadh’s Water Supply: Third World Quarterly. 45(2010): 4. Print.

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