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China renews poverty relief tactics

Submit Time:24-11-2015 | Zoom In | Zoom Out

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Government employee Tan Guanxue has gone from door to door to collect information on residents' health, housing and living conditions in Tongshi village, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Tan is just one of hundreds of thousands of government data collectors working in the country's poorest regions, as the fight against poverty enters a new phase that focuses on targeted, precise solutions. The poverty level of each household is assessed through a checklist of 18 items that will be become central to Guangxi's poverty database.

China used to rely on sampling surveys to determine which villages or even counties could be legitimately considered "impoverished" and concentrated efforts accordingly. When poverty was widespread and the income gap was small, such a "one size fits all" approach worked a miracle. As a result, China became a world leader in poverty reduction.

More than 600 million people were lifted out of poverty in the past three decades, about 70 percent of the total global achievement. China became the first developing country to meet the millennium development target.

With economic growth slowing down and income gap widening in some areas, poor people benefit less from broader growth, and only targeted efforts can address the issue, according to Wang Sangui of the Renmin University of China in Beijing. Only 12.3 million people emerged from poverty in 2014, compared with 43.3 million in 2011.

At the beginning of this year, China had 70.2 million people below the poverty line of 2,300 yuan in annual income by 2010 price standards. If the new international poverty line of 1.9 U.S. dollars a day is used (4,400 yuan in annual income), the number would rise substantially.

Lifting all those people out of poverty by 2020, the government's stated goal, would be a very big task indeed. President Xi Jinping describes eliminating rural poverty as the most difficult challenge in building a "moderately prosperous society".

Official statistics show that more than 200,000 people still have no access to electricity and millions lack access to clean water. A vicious cycle of illness leading to poverty and poverty leading to poor health afflicts about 40 percent of the impoverished population, and 10 million people need to be relocated.

Identifying the needs of the poor is the first step in an uphill battle, Wang pointed out, and the work like Tan's will help in appreciating and addressing the problem. Only by fully understanding the problem can policymakers deliver the targeted measures proposed by the central authorities for the 13th Five-year Plan.

Besides providing better roads, access to water, power and the Internet, education, healthcare and public services are crying out for improvement in poor areas, especially a system of care for those "left-behind" in the scramble for urbanization -- children, women and the elderly.

"Precision" poverty relief should be the order of the day, according to a statement issued following a meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping on Monday. Officials at all levels have been told to meet their poverty alleviation targets or face sanctions, the first time they have been given such obligations.

The statement talked of lifting 50 million people out of poverty by 2020 through support for industry, education, employment and medical care. A welfare program guaranteeing subsistence will cover the remaining 20 million poor people who are unfit to work.

"This shows that China is seeking to diversify its poverty relief measures," said Huang Chengwei, vice director of the International Poverty Reduction Center in China.

"This is the first time that officials are formally asked to make such pledges," said Huang.

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