The fight against ex­treme poverty turns in­no­va­tive to bring smiles to des­ti­tute fam­i­lies

Newsweek International - - CHINA FOCUS -

Arow of di­lap­i­dated adobe houses dot the slope of a loess hill in Zhao­ji­awa, a laid­back vil­lage in Xinzhou, cen­tral Shanxi Province in north China. Many of them have been aban­doned as their res­i­dents moved out of the vil­lage in search of greener pas­tures.

Some of the vil­lagers who have stayed on are grap­pling with ex­treme poverty. Wang Sannu is one of them. The 68-year-old lives with her or­phaned grand­daugh­ter and grand­son, who are both men­tally chal­lenged. Their bed­room, bereft of any other fur­ni­ture or or­na­ment ex­cept a brick bed with news­pa­pers pasted on the walls and the ceil­ing, mir­rors their stark con­di­tion.

Xinzhou, due to its in­hos­pitable loess land and steep ravines, is one of China’s poor­est places. The moun­tain-dom­i­nated land­scape and drought-prone weather make it dif­fi­cult for lo­cals to eke out a de­cent liv­ing.

“Be­cause of the drought, crops can be grown for brief spells only and the yield is low. The vil­lagers live at the mercy of the weather,” Ma Yuyin, Sec­re­tary of the Zhao­ji­awa Vil­lage Branch of the Com­mu­nist Party of China (CPC), said.

With the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment’s thrust on poverty al­le­vi­a­tion, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping vis­ited three house­holds in Zhao­ji­awa on June 21 to in­spect the work at the com­mu­nity level. Wang Sannu’s fam­ily was one of the three.

Destitution to con­tent­ment

Dis­as­ter, ill­ness, and higher ed­u­ca­tion fees or wed­ding costs are some of the fac­tors driv­ing peo­ple into deep poverty in the vil­lages.

Liu Fuyou and his wife, both in their 70s, live with Liu’s 92-year-old mother in the vil­lage. All three are in poor health. The cou­ple’s five grown-up chil­dren have left the vil­lage and set­tled down in other places.

“Last year, my fam­ily’s to­tal in­come was un­der 7,000 yuan ($1,029),” Liu said. “Most of it came from gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies for plant­ing grain crops and con­vert­ing farm­land back into for­est. Only about 500 yuan ($74) of it was in­come from grow­ing grain.”

Xinzhou has be­gun tak­ing tar­geted mea­sures to al­le­vi­ate poverty. A poverty al­le­vi­a­tion work team is now sta­tioned in an adobe house in the vil­lage. It has a com­puter and printer, and on the walls are charts and graphs, out­lin­ing poverty al­le­vi­a­tion goals and an­a­lyz­ing the causes of poverty.

Un­der the tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion pol­icy, Wang Sannu and her two grand­chil­dren now have the min­i­mum liv­ing al­lowance. The grand­mother also gets old-age in­sur­ance and as­sis­tance to peo­ple in ex­treme poverty. In ad­di­tion, the two young­sters re­ceive an an­nual al­lowance of 20,000 yuan ($2,941) for or­phans.

“Now the gov­ern­ment is pay­ing for most of our food and clothes,” Wang said. “I am con­tent.”

In the past five years, 417,000 peo­ple were lifted out of poverty in Xinzhou, ac­cord­ing to the city gov­ern­ment’s work re­port for 2016. The city has more than 3 mil­lion peo­ple and the plan is to move an­other 353,300 res­i­dents out of poverty by 2020.

Since Zhao­ji­awa’s liv­ing con­di­tions are poor, the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties plan to re­lo­cate its res­i­dents to places with bet­ter fa­cil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to Wang Zhi­dong, Sec­re­tary of the CPC Ke­lan County Com­mit­tee. Zhao­ji­awa is a vil­lage un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the county.

Over 3,500 peo­ple in 115 vil­lages in the county will be re­lo­cated to places with bet­ter liv­ing con­di­tions like Songji­agou, a new vil­lage in Ke­lan which has been built to ac­com­mo­date vil­lagers mov­ing out of poverty-stricken ar­eas. With asphalt roads, run­ning wa­ter, broad­band In­ter­net and ca­ble TV, the new vil­lage’s in­fras­truc­ture presents a vivid con­trast to that of Zhao­ji­awa. It also has a school, hos­pi­tal, li­brary and cul­tural cen­ter.

Zhang Guim­ing is one of the peo­ple who re­cently moved into the new vil­lage. His neat new home has mod­ern ameni­ties.

“In the hilly place where I used to live be­fore, it was a strug­gle to get drink­ing wa­ter. Now I am liv­ing in a new house where I eat well, live well, and ev­ery­thing goes well,” he re­marked with sat­is­fac­tion. “And I didn’t have to pay a penny for the house.”

Re­newed ef­forts

The 13th Five-year Plan (2016-20) of China is wag­ing a bat­tle against poverty to achieve the goal of build­ing a mod­er­ately pros­per­ous so­ci­ety in all as­pects by 2020.

In Novem­ber 2015, the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment made a de­ci­sion to elim­i­nate poverty by 2020. At that time, 70 mil­lion peo­ple were still liv­ing in poverty in China.

On June 23 this year, Xi chaired a meet­ing in Taiyuan, cap­i­tal city of Shanxi, on elim­i­nat­ing ex­treme poverty, pledg­ing more sup­port for ar­eas in ex­treme poverty. The meet­ing also called for more so­cial forces to par­tic­i­pate in the poverty al­le­vi­a­tion work.

At a press brief­ing on July 5, Hong Tianyun, Deputy Di­rec­tor of the State Coun­cil Lead­ing Group Of­fice of Poverty Al­le­vi­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (LGOP), ex­plained which ar­eas in China suf­fer from ex­treme poverty.

Hong said the re­gions to be fur­ther sup­ported mainly re­fer to “three ar­eas,” “three au­tonomous pre­fec­tures” and “three de­mo­graphic groups.” The “three ar­eas” are Ti­bet Au­tonomous Re­gion, the south­ern area of Xin­jiang Uygur Au­tonomous Re­gion and the eth­nic au­tonomous ar­eas in­hab­ited by Ti­betans and other eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups in Qing­hai, Sichuan, Yun­nan and Gansu prov­inces.

The “three au­tonomous pre­fec­tures” in ex­treme poverty are Linxia Hui Au­tonomous Pre­fec­ture in Gansu, Liang­shan Yi Au­tonomous Pre­fec­ture in Sichuan and Nu­jiang Lisu Au­tonomous Pre­fec­ture in Yun­nan.

The “three de­mo­graphic groups” in­clude peo­ple trapped in poverty be­cause of ill­ness. Statis­tics in 2014 show that 42.1 per­cent of the im­pov­er­ished was caused by ill­nesses, es­pe­cially se­ri­ous and chronic dis­eases. The sec­ond group com­prises those who be­came im­pov­er­ished due to dis­as­ters or mar­ket fluc­tu­a­tions. The third is formed of the el­derly, who need to be cov­ered by so­cial in­sur­ance be­cause of their ad­vanced age, ill­ness and in­abil­ity to work.

“More pref­er­en­tial poli­cies should be pro­duced for these ar­eas and groups so that they can exit poverty for good,” Hong said.

In ad­di­tion to na­tional ini­tia­tives, provin­cial gov­ern­ments should elim­i­nate poverty by 2020 in light of their own con­di­tions, he said, adding that some prov­inces have done a good job.

Guizhou Province, for ex­am­ple, has listed 20 town­ships as ar­eas in ex­treme poverty and fo­cused its re­sources on al­le­vi­at­ing poverty there. He­bei is tar­get­ing sev­eral coun­ties in Zhangji­akou as key ar­eas for ex­treme poverty al­le­vi­a­tion.

“It is dif­fi­cult to get the re­main­ing poor peo­ple out of poverty through con­ven­tional ways, so we must use un­con­ven­tional mea­sures,” Qu Tian­jun, an of­fi­cial with the LGOP, said, al­lud­ing to e-com­merce and the In­ter­net as ef­fec­tive meth­ods of poverty al­le­vi­a­tion.

In Novem­ber 2016, the LGOP is­sued a guide­line on promoting tar­geted poverty al­le­vi­a­tion through e-com­merce. The goal is to set up e-com­merce poverty al­le­vi­a­tion sta­tions in around 50 per­cent of the poverty-stricken vil­lages by 2020.

To con­nect peo­ple in need of as­sis­tance with those keen to of­fer their help, the LGOP launched a web­site on Oc­to­ber 16, 2016.

By July 12 this year, the web­site, Zgshfp. com.cn, had wit­nessed 80,895 reg­is­tered users who de­scribed them­selves as poverty-stricken. There were over 39,500 of­fers of help and 545,795 yuan ($80,423) had been do­nated.

Many re­quests for help are very spe­cific. For in­stance, on July 12, a user from Yongzhou in Hu­nan Province named Liu Jialian posted a mes­sage, say­ing life had grown harsher af­ter one side of her house col­lapsed fol­low­ing a flood. Her re­quest was for rice and ed­i­ble oil.

Of all the re­quests, 20 per­cent had been met, Hong said at the July 5 press con­fer­ence. The au­thor­i­ties will next ver­ify the re­quests and make sure that the do­na­tions reach the right per­son. They will also get in touch with the rel­e­vant gov­ern­ment de­part­ments and sta­te­owned en­ter­prises (SOES) to per­suade the lat­ter, es­pe­cially those op­er­at­ing in pover­tys­tricken ar­eas, to boost lo­cal in­dus­trial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

Get­ting more play­ers

The gov­ern­ment has been en­cour­ag­ing en­ter­prises, non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions and in­di­vid­u­als to par­tic­i­pate in the poverty al­le­vi­a­tion work. Since 2014, 68 cen­trally ad­min­is­tered SOES have as­sisted al­most 15,000 poverty-stricken vil­lages, mainly sup­ply­ing wa­ter and elec­tric­ity and paving roads, Qu said.

An in­dus­trial poverty al­le­vi­a­tion de­vel­op­ment fund has been es­tab­lished and till now, 26,500 pri­vate en­ter­prises have been mo­bi­lized to as­sist 21,000 poor vil­lages. This has ben­e­fited 3.8 mil­lion im­pov­er­ished peo­ple.

The Ever­grande Group, a For­tune Global 500 firm en­gaged in real es­tate, fi­nance, health and cul­ture trav­els, be­gan to of­fer as­sis­tance to Dafang, a county in Bi­jie, Guizhou, since De­cem­ber 2015. Their plan was to in­vest 3 bil­lion yuan ($442.1 mil­lion) in three years and lift 180,000 peo­ple out of poverty by 2018.

This year, Ever­grande de­cided to in­vest an­other 8 bil­lion yuan ($1.2 bil­lion) to help all the poor coun­ties in Bi­jie. The com­pany is us­ing var­i­ous means to al­le­vi­ate poverty. It sup­ports ru­ral co­op­er­a­tives that hire peo­ple in strait­ened cir­cum­stances and so far, has given loans to more than 180 veg­etable and an­i­mal hus­bandry co­op­er­a­tives.

“We not only pro­vide fund, but also tal­ented peo­ple, tech­nol­ogy, man­age­ment teams and ideas,” Yao Dong, Vice Pres­i­dent of the group, said.

Non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions are also be­ing mo­bi­lized to par­tic­i­pate in poverty al­le­vi­a­tion. Qu said more poli­cies will be in­tro­duced to en­cour­age them to en­gage in poverty re­lief work.

On Septem­ber 21, an of­fi­cial (first front) from the Fengpu Town­ship of Ningde, Fu­jian Province, pre­pares red cou­plets with a fam­ily who had just moved to a new re­set­tle­ment house thanks to poverty-re­lief ef­forts from the lo­cal gov­ern­ment

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