Bring­ing new hope to poor­est peo­ple on plateau

Mea­sures are un­der­way to boost the liv­ing stan­dards of peo­ple in the re­gion’s harsh­est ar­eas.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By XU WEI and DAQIONG in Lhasa and Ny­ingchi, Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion

Ed­i­tor’s note: This is the sec­ond of a se­ries of spe­cial reports China Daily is pub­lish­ing on ef­forts to erad­i­cate poverty and raise liv­ing stan­dards in ru­ral ar­eas, es­pe­cially among the na­tion’s eth­nic groups.

Sonam Ten­zin has a clear un­der­stand­ing of what mod­ern ma­te­rial wealth would mean to him: treat­ment and med­i­ca­tion for his el­derly, dis­abled mother, and his aunt and un­cle; money to pay his mort­gage; and a de­cent ed­u­ca­tion for his two sons.

How­ever, Sonam lives in Ny­ingchi, a pre­fec­ture-level city in the poverty-stricken area around the Yar­lung Zangbo River basin, where mak­ing a liv­ing has never been easy.

Most res­i­dents of this im­pov­er­ished area in the south­east of the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion live on the mea­ger crops they grow on the sparse farm­land and earn­ings from sell­ing mat­su­take mush­rooms they pick in nearby forests.

The 27-year-old Ti­betan is sep­a­rated from his wife, so he sin­gle-hand­edly sup­ports his sons and his three aging rel­a­tives.

“We are just get­ting by. Af­ter all, I have to man­age all the fi­nan­cial ins and outs my­self,” he said.

Last year, the fam­ily’s sit­u­a­tion went from bad to worse when their house was se­verely dam­aged by fire. De­spite help from a sup­port fund es­tab­lished by the re­gional gov­ern­ment, Sonam had to take out a bank loan of 60,000 yuan ($8,690) to re­pair the build­ing.

Au­thor­i­ties es­ti­mate that 590,000 peo­ple — about 20 per­cent of Ti­bet’s pop­u­la­tion — still live be­low the gov­ern­ment’s des­ig­nated an­nual poverty thresh­old of 2,300 yuan in dis­pos­able in­come.

Like Sonam Ten­zin, most of those badly af­fected by poverty live in the re­gion’s mar­gins, chal­lenged by the harsh nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment and an un­der­de­vel­oped trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture that makes trav­el­ing dif­fi­cult.

Ny­ima, deputy head of the Ny­ingchi of­fice for poverty al­le­vi­a­tion, said iso­la­tion is one of the main prob­lems for the re­gion’s poor­est in­hab­i­tants.

“Some peo­ple live on high moun­tains and oth­ers in deep val­leys that are too harsh to pro­vide a de­cent life. Many have long been trou­bled by ill­ness or dis­abil­ity,” he said, adding that much of the re­main­ing poverty in Ny­ingchi, which has a pop­u­la­tion of about 250,000, cen­ters on house­holds that lack able-bod­ied work­ers.

How­ever, there are many cases in which vil­lagers don’t try hard enough to change their lives, ac­cord­ing to Ny­ima, who like many Ti­betans uses just one name.

“We have been try­ing to set a good ex­am­ple and in­tro­duce them to good pro­grams, but those with the ini­tia­tive to im­prove their own lives have prob­a­bly al­ready done so,” he said.

De­vel­op­ment goals

The re­gional gov­ern­ment has set the goal of erad­i­cat­ing poverty by 2020. Dur­ing the next five years, it plans to in­vest 18 bil­lion yuan ($2.5 bil­lion) in 1,216 de­vel­op­ment pro­grams, most of which are de­signed to pro­vide em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for the less well-off or help them to es­tab­lish co­op­er­a­tives.

Mean­while, the au­thor­i­ties will move about 236,000 im­pov­er­ished peo­ple into re­set­tle­ment projects, and a loan of more than 38 bil­lion yuan has been ob­tained to fi­nance the process.

The new dwellings have been well-re­ceived by many vil­lagers. In Lhasa’s Quxu county, the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have re­lo­cated 172 house­holds to San you vil­lage, where they live in newly built two-story houses that were fully fur­nished long be­fore the oc­cu­pants ar­rived.

Dashon, a 52-year-old res­i­dent, said that in the past she and her fam­ily had to shel­ter in a neigh­bor’s house when­ever it rained.

“Our house could have col­lapsed at any minute, and we of­ten feared for our safety,” she said.

Sonam Dekyi, a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial in Sanyou, said vil­lagers vote to de­ter­mine which fam­i­lies will be al­lowed to move into the new set­tle­ment.

“We con­stantly re­mind them that mov­ing here is the start of their new lives. They should not be sat­is­fied with the sta­tus quo,” she said.

In the com­ing five years, the re­gional au­thor­i­ties will also pro­vide part-time jobs, such as for­est ranger posts, for 500,000 peo­ple.

Lu Huadong, deputy head of the Ti­bet poverty al­le­vi­a­tion of­fice, said the gov­ern­ment has now en­tered the per­sonal de­tails of 590,000 of­fi­cially des­ig­nated poverty-stricken peo­ple in its ar­chives.

“We­have iden­ti­fied 11 dif­fer­ent fac­tors that help to ex­plain why these peo­ple live in poverty, and dif­fer­ent mea­sures will be adopted for dif­fer­ent peo­ple and dif­fer­ent house­holds to help lift them out of poverty,” he said.

Penpa, a 48-year-old res­i­dent of Bayi town­ship in Ny­ingchi, de­scribed him­self as be­ing “weak as a hen” af­ter a long-term stom­ach ail­ment. He spends about 10,000 yuan on med­i­cal bills every year, and has a 70,000 yuan mort­gage af­ter build­ing a new house in 2014 to re­place the wood cabin he shared with his wife.

How­ever, be­cause he chose pri­vate clin­ics over pub­lic hos­pi­tals he has waived his right to claim med­i­cal in­sur­ance.

With the help of the au­thor­i­ties, Penpa and eight other vil­lagers set up a co­op­er­a­tive to raise Ti­betan chick­ens.

“We’re des­per­ately poor, but I def­i­nitely don’t want to stay this way,” he said.

Mean­while, in Sonam Ten­zin’s vil­lage, the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties have helped 11 pover­tys­tricken house­holds to es­tab­lish a co­op­er­a­tive to raise pigs.

He said he could have made a much larger in­come if he had mi­grated to an ur­ban area in search of em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties. “But I have peo­ple to take care of. What if they got sick while I was ab­sent?” he said.

In­stead, he has been of­fered a job as a for­est ranger, which will guar­an­tee an an­nual in­come of about 3,000 yuan. He also has an oc­ca­sional part­time job as a taxi driver for tourists bound for the Yar­lung Zangbo River.

How­ever, Sonam Ten­zin said he still fears the worse­case sce­nario: That a rel­a­tive will be hit by a se­ri­ous ill­ness and the med­i­cal bills will be be­yond his means.

“I don’t think any­one would lend me any money. It would be nat­u­ral for them to doubt my abil­ity to re­pay them,” he said.

Chal­lenges and con­cerns

The real chal­lenge for the au­thor­i­ties in their poverty-al­le­vi­a­tion ef­forts lies in work­ing out how poor house­holds can be helped tomake a liv­ing with­out gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance.

Ny­ima, the of­fi­cial, voiced con­cerns about the po­ten­tial side ef­fects of pro­vid­ing poverty-stricken fam­i­lies with free re­set­tle­ment.

“The gov­ern­ment def­i­nitely has good in­ten­tions. De­spite that, peo­ple who have man­aged to break out of poverty through their own ef­forts might think that some oth­ers did noth­ing but still man­aged to move into spa­cious new homes and will sim­ply ac­cept another sub­sidy at the end of the year,” he said.

“Some peo­ple just do noth­ing and think the gov­ern­ment will take care of them, any­way,” he added. “Stop­ping the re­set­tle­ment projects from turn­ing into slums is at the top of our agenda.”

In one re­set­tle­ment project in an ur­ban area of Ny­ingchi, the au­thor­i­ties have set an en­try con­di­tion that re­quires poor house­holds to have at least one per­son work­ing in the area be­fore they are al­lowed to move in. Mi­grants are also al­lowed to keep the farm­land they have left be­hind.

De­spite his ex­cel­lent aca­demic per­for­mance, the need to sup­port his fam­ily forced Sonam Ten­zin to drop out be­fore he fin­ished high school. Now, his dear­est wish is that his chil­dren will re­ceive an ed­u­ca­tion good enough to help them live up to their po­ten­tial.

“Every time I am in­vited to a gather­ing of my ju­nior high school class­mates, I al­ways refuse. We were very close, but now we live very dif­fer­ent lives,” he said.

“I just hope my chil­dren will not be in the same po­si­tion as me in the fu­ture.”

We have iden­ti­fied 11 dif­fer­ent fac­tors that help to ex­plain why these peo­ple live in poverty, and dif­fer­ent mea­sures will be adopted for dif­fer­ent peo­ple and dif­fer­ent house­holds to help lift them out of poverty.” Lu Huadong, deputy head of the Ti­bet poverty al­le­vi­a­tion of­fice


Farm­ers plow be­fore sow­ing their crops near a wild peach wood in Ny­ingchi, a pre­fec­ture-level city in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, in April. Every spring, thou­sands of tourists de­scend on the city to view the blos­soms, pro­vid­ing job op­por­tu­ni­ties for lo­cal res­i­dents.


Phurbu Chozin (left), founder of an agri­cul­tural co­op­er­a­tive in Ny­ingchi, teaches a vil­lager how to grow mush­rooms.


Dashon hugs her grand­son at her new house in Sanyou vil­lage near Lhasa.

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