Yi strug­gle against poverty

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

For Jisi Lazuo, the torch fes­ti­val in her vil­lage in south­west China should be a cel­e­bra­tion in­volv­ing col­or­ful eth­nic clothes and eat­ing freshly slaugh­tered pig. In­stead, it’s a time of stress. “In my heart I al­ways get wor­ried when the torch fes­ti­val comes along,” said Jisi, 37, who sup­ports a fam­ily of two grand­par­ents and four chil­dren. “Tra­di­tional clothes are quite ex­pen­sive, but for my own kids I can only buy what­ever I can get,” she said.

Jisi be­longs to the iso­lated Yi eth­nic com­mu­nity. They have a dis­tinct lan­guage and cul­ture, and are among the poor­est in China. Most live in Liang­shan, a moun­tain­ous dis­trict in the south­west­ern prov­ince of Sichuan and one of 14 ar­eas of “con­cen­trated poverty” iden­ti­fied by the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. Av­er­age in­comes in Liang­shan are just 27 per­cent of the na­tional av­er­age, of­fi­cial data shows. An am­bi­tious poverty re­duc­tion cam­paign is seek­ing to change this, en­sur­ing by 2020 that no one is liv­ing in poverty - de­fined by the gov­ern­ment as less than 2,300 yuan a year.

China has lifted hun­dreds of mil­lions of its cit­i­zens out of poverty over the past few decades, but do­ing the same for groups like the Yi poses a dif­fer­ent set of chal­lenges. “A lot of that poverty is not as eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble for the gov­ern­ment,” said Ben West­more, a se­nior economist at the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD). “It’s peo­ple who live in moun­tain­ous ar­eas who are not very well con­nected, or they’re more dis­persed at the pro­vin­cial level across the pre­fec­tures,” he said.

From road build­ing to sub­si­dies, the cen­tral gov­ern­ment has spent large amounts of money on poverty re­lief in places like Liang­shan. In 2016, the Liang­shan gov­ern­ment dis­trib­uted 940 mil­lion yuan ($139 mil­lion) in ba­sic in­come as­sis­tance for the poor­est in the re­gion, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment web­site. Of­fi­cials in charge of Liang­shan’s anti-poverty cam­paign de­clined to com­ment on the pro­grams. The State Coun­cil poverty al­le­vi­a­tion of­fice in Bei­jing also de­clined to com­ment.

While many Yi wel­come the state’s help, some ques­tion whether cash hand­outs are sus­tain­able. “Just giv­ing out money is use­less be­cause one day the money will even­tu­ally run out,” said Emu Zhiji, one of the few peo­ple in his vil­lage to re­ceive a univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion. Emu said he hopes to be­come a sports teacher, some­thing that would be im­pos­si­ble for many Yi. Thirty per­cent are il­lit­er­ate, com­pared to 4 per­cent na­tion­ally, and many do not speak Man­darin, the main lan­guage in China. As a re­sult, they have lim­ited op­tions for earn­ing a liv­ing be­yond farm­ing.

The gov­ern­ment has tried to im­prove ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion for the Yi, but it strug­gles to re­cruit teach­ers to work in such a re­mote area. Many stu­dents bat­tle to keep up with lessons taught in Man­darin. Emu said more needs to be done to al­low the Yi to de­velop within their own cul­ture if they are to al­le­vi­ate the poverty and a de­pen­dency on gov­ern­ment pro­grams. “If we had bet­ter jobs we’d be able to feed and clothe our­selves on our own, but for that we need to be able to use our own lan­guage,” he said. — Reuters

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