ARP has been awarded for infrastructuredevelopment in Alexandra. (Image: Friends of Alex) A project that’s uplifting living conditions in Alexandra, one of South Africa’s most densely populated townships, has received a prestigious accolade from the United Nations.UN Habitat, a United Nations agency that promotes the social and environmental sustainability of towns and cities, awarded the sought-after Habitat Scroll of Honour to the Alexandra Renewal Project (ARP) on 5 October 2009, to coincide with World Habitat Day.The Scroll of Honour celebrates initiatives that have made outstanding contributions in fields such as shelter provision, highlighting the plight of the homeless, leadership in post-conflict reconstruction, and developing and improving the human settlements and quality of urban life. It is for the latter category that ARP has been recognised.Gauteng executive committee member for local government and housing, Kgaogelo Lekgoro, flew to Washington DC in the US to receive the award.“We are delighted that we have been selected to receive this award,” Lekgoro said. “We see this as a vote of confidence in the policies that we have pursued as government.“We are working tirelessly to provide housing, security and comfort for our people,” he added.The award was first introduced in 1989 and takes the form of a plaque engraved with the name of the winning programme, organisation or individual and their achievements.Improving livelihoodsARP has been recognised for helping thousands of poor people move into better homes and boosting health, water and electricity services.“It was our unanimous opinion that the Alexandra Renewal Project should receive the award this year for its outstanding efforts in … improving the living conditions for its residents,” said UN Habitat.ARP was launched in 2001 by then South African president Thabo Mbeki. It forms part of the government’s Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Programme and the Urban Renewal Programme that Mbeki announced during his State of the Nation Address in February of the same year.Between 2001 and 2004 ARP completed 28 sub-projects in Alexandra. These included the building of 1 400 houses, upgrading electricity supply and providing power for 12 000 houses, refurbishing all 18 schools in the township, the building of a new police station in Alexandra central and improvements made to the nearby Wynberg police station.ARP has also relocated 8 500 families from the township to more comfortable spots within the city of Johannesburg, while about 7 000 families have been removed from the banks of a polluted Jukskei River in the township to better settlements.Among its ongoing work, ARP is involved in upgrading ablution facilities and improving roads and pavements in the township. It is also refurbishing Alexandra’s hostels, which were mostly dilapidated. In total, ARP is overseeing almost 100 upgrade initiatives in the sprawling community.Alex, as the township is commonly known, was estimated to have 350 000 residents in 2001, all squeezed into an area of about 800ha. It is situated east of Johannesburg and close to Sandton, one of Johannesburg’s wealthiest suburbs.Among this year’s seven other award recipients, UN Habitat recognised the Ugandan Women’s Efforts to Save Children organisation, for providing water, health and sanitation to orphans and vulnerable children in that country.Township improvement driveGauteng is South Africa’s smallest, yet most populous province. It’s also the country’s economic hub. Local government there is currently running a number of programmes to improve its many townships, most of which are overcrowded and lack critical infrastructure.A US$403 000 (R3-billion) programme, the 20 Priority Township Project (20PTP), was launched in 2006 to develop identified townships within the province into upmarket residential areas. Its focus is on Orlando and Zola – two sections of South Africa’s largest township, Soweto – as well as Boipatong, Bophelong Sharpeville and Sebokeng in the Vaal Triangle.Atteridgeville, Soshanguve and Mamelodi were identified as special focus areas by the city of Tshwane in Pretoria, while Katlegong, Kwatsaduza, Wattville, Daveyton, Tembisa, Refilwe and Rethabiseng, east of Johannesburg in the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality, are also receiving special attention.To the west of Johannesburg, Mogale City‘s townships – Kagiso, Munsieville and Mohlakeng – are also benefiting from 20PTP. Conditions in Ratanda, a township in the Lesedi District Municipality, south Gauteng, are also being improved.Gauteng has also approved the Tembisa and Winterveldt Urban Regeneration projects “in order to improve historical townships existing in the province”. Tembisa is situated between Johannesburg and Pretoria, while Winterveldt is in Pretoria.As part of the 20PTP, most parts of Soweto have undergone major revamps in recent years, and thanks to the efforts of the city of Johannesburg, the dusty streets of that township and Alexandra have also been tarred.