What Problems Are Facing Alexandra Near Johannesburg Environmental Sciences Essay

The name Alexandra was the name of a farmers wife who in 1905 transformed his dairy farm into a township and named it after his wife. Over the last century Alexandra has been refuge to many poor immigrants looking for better standards of living, waging their lives in the city of Johannesburg, also known as the “place of gold”. According to Alexandra Renewal Project(2006), Alexandra has grown to a population of approximately 350 000 people, squeezed into an area of about 800 hectare and still showing no sign of decrease. This pattern of urban migration is painted across the history of Alexandra and was influenced by many political events, one of which is the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when extensive labour was needed for widespread expanding of the industrial and commercial sectors, empowering the force of urban migration. Alexandra even endured through the struggles of apartheid to become home to a diverse population of urban poor settlers. Alexandra Renewal Project(2006) states that Alexandra had until recent developments, a huge amount of informal dwellings where estimates ranged from 34 000 upwards. Consequently the township of Alexandra has a proud but tragic history, which ushered it into the new century in desperate need of regeneration. This paper exemplifies the slum characteristics of Alexandra, a rural area located on the ridge of Santon a rich suburb. Alexandra also is in close proximity to the major economic hub of Gauteng, the city of Johannesburg. This article focuses on the analysis of the situation currently found in Alexandra, which was undertaken through a in depth field study. In addition, this paper addresses the social and economic benefits that the work of civil engineers can present to Alexandra to elevate it from slum status. This will be done by defining the concept of a slum and moreover examining the situation in Alexandra.(Alexandra renewal project,2006 ; Morris,2000 ; Bonner & Nieftagodien,2008).

The term “slum” identifies with a range of low income settlements and poor standards of living. Furthermore, according to UN-HABIT (2007) a slum could be defined as a heavily populated urban area characterised by low standard housing and squalor. This apparent ill nature of slums leave many asking why do slums exist? According to UN-HABIT (2007) slums exist because of a number of forces. Some of these consist of rapid rural-to-urban migration, increasing urban poverty, inequality and globalisation. Applying these concepts to S.A its easy to see why Alexandra fell into the abyss that is slum status. With the advent of a new democratic government in 1994, people in search of newly promised jobs have flocked into the major hubs of S.A., which dramatically increased the rate of unskilled labour migrating to major cities, thus demonstrating rapid rural to urban migration. Furthermore UN-HABIT (2007) explains that the boom and busts of the economy such as that of S.A. churn up inequality and distribute new wealth unevenly , which consequently contribute to the enormous growth of slums such as Alexandra. (Bonner & Nieftagodien,2008 ; UN-HABIT,2007)

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme(2006) specifies a slum to be an area or suburb to be deprived of access to safe water; unsecure residential status, inadequate access to sanitation and other infrastructure; poor structural quality of housing and overcrowding. That is, if anyone of these defining characteristics are found in an area, that area is to be classified as a slum. Alexandra status in relation to these characteristics will be discussed below.

Water and sanitation are key factors in the elevation of Alexandra from slum status. The ever increasing population growth within Alexandra, has overloaded the infrastructure to a point where water pressures are too low and sewers frequently over flow. In the areas with the highest density of informal settlements within Alexandra, water is collected by navigating dangerous paths between closely spaced “shacks” and collecting it from overloaded taps. These water taps do not have adequate drainage, consequently water is left to flow between shacks. Moreover, pools of stagnant water form. According to United Nations Environment Programme(2000) these stagnant water pools are ideal breeding habitats for disease vectors such as mosquitoes. Because of this apparent lack of drainage systems below the informal settlements of Alexandra, people tend to disperse of waste water into these waterways that flow between the “shacks”, causing ill smelling odours to settle and give way for water borne diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid and parasitic worms to thrive.( United Nations Environment Programme,2000 )

Sanitation services play important role in healthy environment especially in areas like Alexandra which are defined as slums. According to Barnes et al,(1999,p13) census data, 81% of the households in Alexandra have access to aflush or chemical toilet, 1% of households use pit latrines and approximately 15% use the �bucket latrine� system. The informal homes of Alexandra are not connected to the formal waterborne sewerage system, thus chemical portable toilets service residents. These portable toilets are usually located next to streets on the outskirts of the informal settlements or “shacks”. These toilets are located in this way because there are no access roads nor space between the informal housing for municipal services to collect sewerage waste from these toilets. As a result residents have to navigate dangerous pathways to get to these sanitation services. Mirriam a person who currently lives (guide) explains that as these passages become dangerous to navigate at night, thus people tend to desiccate into bags and discard them into these narrow passageways, which attributes to countless diseases and the appalling stench in the area. The lack of access also inhibits waste collection services to collect waste between the “shacks”, resulting in poor waste removal services in the area. Because of this, the overall area is contaminated by waste lying around, furthermore the lack of waste collection attracts disease infested vermin and animals, worsening health conditions within the slum

The congestion and overcrowding in Alexandra act as a catalysts to all problems found in the area. Overloading in informal settlements, hostels and along the banks of the Jukskei river make living conditions stressful, unhealthy and dangerous. The unplanned nature and the overpopulated ground usage, has forced some settlers to build informal housing below the flood line of the Jukskei River and in some instances on unsafe slopes. According to United Nations Environment Programme(2000) during January 2000, unusually heavy rains precipitated and 120 informal households were washed away. In addition to over usage, structures have been built over previously installed sewer lines and manholes that make access for maintenance a tedious endeavour. Moreover, the overall high density of the informal settlements cause amplify the spreading of disorder like fires and diseases. Recent news reports that a devastating fire on 2 May 2011, killed three people and left 5000 people destitute living in Masiphumelele township, civil organisation in the informal settlement accuse the high density of settlement and lack of access roads to be responsible for the sheer scale of devastation within the township. (Alexandra renewal project,2006 ; Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement,2001 ; Eye Witness News,2011)

The Children’s charter of S.A. , according to New Africa Education(2004) states that all children have a right to a safe environment and the right to recreational facilities so that children can be children. Alexandra is home to thousands of families, the Alexandra Renewal project (2006b) observes that over 120 000 children ranging from ages 2-18 years live in Alexandra. The slum conditions in Alexandra hinder children to develop into skilled professionals. That is, the over utilisation of the space available causes children to have nowhere to play and consequently compel them turn to dangerous streets to occupy themselves. For some of the children who live on the opposing side of the Jukskei river, going to school comprises of having to wade through the Jukskei r river as bridges crossing the river are too far away. Some of the valiant students cross the river by walking across a pipeline that spans the river, this perceptibly is a dangerous feat and place children in unnecessary danger. Alexandra has access to electricity, but many illegal connections exist, these electrical connections pose another threat to children as substations are insecure and present a considerable danger to children with easy access available. These connections also give way to many fire hazardous in Alexandra.

All aspects mentioned clearly classify Alexandra as a slum in accordance to the defining characteristics specified earlier. It was seen that Alex illustrates lack of access to water and sanitation, consists of non durable housing built on dangerous areas where insecure tenure is definite and that overpopulation gives way to insufficient living areas and dangers to children. Furthermore this in depth look at the situation in Alexandra emphasizes the dire need of a new age of renewal, hope and upliftment in this area. When reviewing the purpose of this paper it dictates that some form of solution to the uplift Alexandra from slum status imposed by the civil engineering will be addressed. Consequently these aspects will be argued below.

Investments in civil engineering projects can substantially increase living standards within Alexandra. The Alexandra Renewal Project(ARP) is one of eight projects that form part of S.A. Integrated Sustainable Rural Development and Urban Renewal Programme, enforced by President Mbeki in 2001. This programme is an approach to address urbanisation and housing challenges in S.A. According to Alexandra Renewal project (2001) the budget in 2001 for the ARP was estimated to be R1.7 billion over seven years. The Alexandra Renewal Project includes extensive use of civil engineering skills to promote the Alexandra from slum status.

Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement (2001) points out that improvements in sanitation and water services can be identified as imperative to the elevation of Alexandra. This could be achieved by firstly overcoming the general overloading of the sewerage system. By investigation it was found that civil engineers can construct new interceptor sewers which will connect to a new outgoing sewer carrying sewerage off to the bulk sewerage system. According to Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement (2001) if such a system would be in place, it could provide adequate services to slum dwellers. The location and alignment of these new sewers is vital because for such a system to run adequately, there has to be access to manholes and pipes to provide maintenance services. Consequently this would mean improving the alignment of informal houses. Moreover, the construction of ablution blocks on the side of streets, instead of the portable chemical toilets, would therefore mean the elimination of poor level of service and high maintenance costs of chemical portable toilets. The ARP included the upgrading of the outfall sewers in Alexandra between 2001 and 2004. The rehabilitation of water systems is closely linked to the treatment of the sewerage system, as it would be easier to install improved water lines in junction with sewerage. The civil engineers attended to the low water pressures by upgrading water mains and by the construction of a new water reservoir, this formed part of the ARP. (Special Interest Group in Urban Settlement,2001 ; Alexandra Renewal project,2010 )

The improvement of building infrastructure can transform Alexandra into a thriving urban area. Civil engineers can contribute by installing building infrastructure in a planned way, this includes the realignment of properties into small narrow stands. Which therefore results in the decrease in high densities of land usage and improves accessibility into Alexandra. Improved accessibility promotes better living conditions, as waste services are able to move between housing. Building infrastructure in the ARP included the construction of many buildings which act to improve social and economic status of the people living in Alexandra. These buildings includes construction and improvement of police stations, people centres, 1400 housing units, 350 social housing units, Alexandra transit village and Marlboro transit village upgrade. These building improvements give owners a secure tenure which in turn spur them to maintain and invest in these building. The installation of this infrastructure give place to economic behaviour to form and to forester a spirit of entrepreneurship within Alexandra, as small business and educational services arise. The ARP included centres which is called “clusters” where slum dwellers are able to attain marketable skills such as care worker skills, tourism skills and construction skills.( Alexandra Renewal project,2010 )

Social end economical benefits do not only come in the form of new buildings but also includes the improvement of road and overall infrastructure. This includes the construction of recreational parks and sport fields, upgrading of roads, widening of London bridge, construction of a pedestrian bridge across the Jukskei river and the improvement of storm water drainage. These improvements influence the social and economic aspects of Alexandra. The improvement of roads give Alexandra access to business markets outside of Alexandra, the pedestrian bridge relieve children from the dangers of crossing the Jukskei river and parks and sports fields remove people from a sense of squalor.( Alexandra Renewal project,2010 )

To conclude, this essay depicts the situation found in Alexandra, an area defined as a slum. It was found that slums mainly exist due to rapid rural to urban migration, high levels of inequality and globalization. Moreover, slums where defined by the lack of the access to water, sanitation, durable housing, secure tenure and sufficient living areas. It was then illustrated that Alexandra can be characterised as a slum, because of its poor quality of water and sanitation services. Furthermore congestion proved to act as a catalyst to other problems such as unsafe tenure and spreading of diseases . Also, dangerous aspects such as illegal electrical connections and inadequate lack of infrastructure was illustrated.