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Engineering a better world | Riyadh's Wadi Hanifah

riyadh wadi hanifah Cropped

A floodplain management project in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is contributing to global efforts on sustainable development.

To help boost the somewhat lacking awareness of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) among engineers and related professionals, New Civil Engineer is featuring several projects in the coming weeks and months.

Through these profiles we hope to show real case studies where the goals have played a significant role in shaping outcomes.

In the video above, Alan Travers, partner at BuroHappold Engineering, talks about working with the Arriyadh Development Authority (ADA) on the Wadi Hanifah Restoration Programme and the role of engineers in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.


The project

The Wadi Hanifah Programme is actually not one but a series of projects undertaken for the ADA.

The principal objective of these projects is environmental restoration, to rehabilitate the Wadi Hanifah which passes through Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

The Wadi is around 120km in length, and the initial priority projects included a 70km stretch that passes through the city.

“The goals are aspirational, they are very challenging, they may not all be able to be achieved by 2030, but that does not mean that we should not seek to achieve them…”

BuroHappold’s Alan Travers

It had become a dumping ground for industrial and building waste, and so had been seriously degraded over time.

As well as environmental rehabilitation, other joint aims of the programme were to manage and mitigate flood risk, improve water quality and create a vibrant public amenity and recreation space.

Although the programme started long before the SDGs were conceived, it is clear that projects like this can contribute a lot to achieving the SDGs. For example, Riyadh faces huge challenges with water resource management, and this intervention has reduced their use of potable water for irrigation by bioremediating and recycling 120,000m³/day of waste groundwater – a hugely significant development.

sustainable wadi hanifah riyadh

sustainable wadi hanifah riyadh

The programme can be seen to have contributed to achieving many of the United Nations SDGs in a number of other ways:

  • The initial priority projects created a 70km linear park which has provided a comfortable environment for recreational and leisure activities, allowing people to be more active, despite the heat of Saudi Arabia (SDG3 - Good health and wellbeing)
  • The bioremediation of the waste water produced from the management of rising groundwater in the city created a thriving ecosystem and this water is now used for irrigation, whereas this demand was previously met by potable water (SDG6 - Clean water and sanitation)
  • The formalising of the wadi channel allows flood water to be safely conveyed offering flood protection to hundreds of residents and reducing (SDG6).
  • Although the project itself did not target gender equality, the way the wadi park is used has created a space for families to socialise and feel comfortable (SDG 10 - Reduced inequality and SDG 11 - Sustainable cities and communities).
  • By creating a productive use for the wadi space, together with ongoing management by the ADA, there is now no dumping, and better management of solid and liquid waste (SDG 12 - Responsible consumption and production and SDG 15 - Life on land)

wadi hanifah water

wadi hanifah water

So what more could be done to support projects like this, to make a positive difference?

Government intervention can make huge headway in leading on and motivating change. But such interventions will vary depending on political objectives and priorities. Although governments have started to bring in legislation that makes real change, and the plastic bag tax is a fantastic example of this*, we cannot simply rely on government to focus on sustainability, and think that we, as engineers, don’t have a role, indeed don’t have an obligation, to act.

So if we are not going to rely on government, what can we engineers do?

“As engineers, we have the ability to design projects that can bring about transformational impact, and play into a number of these sustainable development goals. But more than that, I believe that we, as consulting engineers, are uniquely placed to articulate and build the proposition for sustainable development,” says Travers. This is a really important point: engineers must lead by example, and most importantly, influence people to act with the 2030 SDGs clearly in focus.

Travers goes on to say: “I think we have a tremendous opportunity, and in fact an obligation, to work with our clients, in both the public and private sector, and bring about a change in their perception and understanding about the importance of sustainability…and through our advocacy we can influence them in a positive way.”

So there’s the challenge. Go out there and advocate for more sustainable solutions. Whether you are building a skyscraper or digging an excavation, think about how and why you are doing it. Is that the most sustainable way? Can you help your client find a more sustainable outcome that helps achieve the global goals? If you need help, check out UK Stakeholders for Sustainable Development (UKSSD) who are supporting companies around the UK to implement initiatives to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

*since its introduction the plastic bag tax has seen an 80% reduction in plastic bag use, and a 40% reduction in plastic bags washing up on the British coastline.

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