BEIJING.— China is aiming to realize its dream of building a “modestly prosperous society” with a plan to eradicate poverty by 2020.
In its efforts to do so, the giant country has already lifted 700,000,000 people out of poverty in less than 40 years, an unprecedented achievement, which saw it become the first country in the world to fulfill the UN millennium development goals of reducing poverty by half.
In order to definitively eradicate this scourge – which today would mean improving the wellbeing and living conditions of around 50 million people, more than the entire population of Spain or South Africa – China is developing specific strategies and prioritizing policies designed to address the issue.
Its efforts to reduce poverty are one of the most compelling examples of the levels of progress China has achieved as a world power, but also one of its most important challenges.
The Chinese government is aware that its goal of building a “modestly prosperous society and national rejuvenation,” which was presented in 2012 during the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) 18th National Congress, depends greatly on its ability to eradicate poverty within the country.
Wu Peng, director of the National Foundation For Poverty Alleviation’s international development department believes that doing so, by 2020, is indeed possible.
“The government’s current plan consists of lifting 10 million people a year out of poverty, while almost 14 million people saw their status change in 2016 alone. If we continue at this pace, we are fully confident that this can be achieved,” he noted.
As such, strategies to reduce poverty and the establishment of a series of measures with which all government organizations, at all levels, must comply, were included for the first time in China’s 13th five-year economic and social development plan (2016-2020).
Over the last 30 years, since its “reform and opening” policies were introduced, the number of people living in poverty has dropped to just 5.7% of the total population, a feat which according to Wu, was possible thanks to the implementation of a series of measures directed toward catering to the needs of those living in rural areas, where the majority of the country’s poor reside.
A STRATEGIC APPROACH
In 2011 China readjusted its poverty measures, adopting international scales and eradicating the distinction between those living in extreme poverty and low income households.
Although the causes of poverty continue to be very much the same as before –living in remote or difficult to access areas, natural disasters, and disease – tackling the problem is becoming an increasingly bigger and more expensive task.
For example, the cost of providing help to the poor rises considerably when we consider that many live in remote areas, with no roads, electricity, or clean water.
The reality of modern-day China, and the increase in inequality that came with development, meant that the world’s second largest economic power was obliged to redefine its strategies.
The key to combating the problem, according to Chinese authorities, lies in taking a strategic approach. As such it has developed a series of measures designed, first and foremost, to provide industry jobs to 30 million people, eligible to work and with production capabilities; secondly, to offer assistance to 10 million citizens by relocating them to areas with greater employment opportunities; third, relocating another 10 million people currently living in unproductive areas to other zones; and lastly, to guarantee the nation’s poor with food subsidies and social security services.
THE SICHUAN EXAMPLE
With 91 million inhabitantsSichuan is one of China’s most populous provinces, and also where some of the main efforts to combat poverty are being undertaken.
What is going on in Sichuan is just a small-scale example of work being done across the country, explainedZhang Haipeng, deputy commissioner of the province’s Poverty Reduction and Mitigation Bureau.
Statistics from the entity reveal that, between 2013 and 2016, the number of people living in poverty fell from six to two million, decreasing from 9.6% to 4.3%. According to authorities, such results were achieved through a 10-point plan which includes providing poor citizens with food and clothing, housing benefits, education, and basic medical services, as well as financing and assistance for local projects.
Meanwhile, Zhang also highlighted the important role played by private entities in the struggle against poverty. “Private companies are one of the main forces in efforts to combat poverty. Today, over 2,800 corporations have partnered with poor districts across the province to create jobs, fund enterprises, and offer assistance and advice.”
Another important initiative toward eradicating poverty in the province is community tourism, explained Zhou Jiangrong, deputy director of exchange and cooperation at the sector’s development commission.
According to Jiangrong, rural tourism is being developed across 5,000 of the province’s 50,000 districts, benefitting eight million people across approximately 10,000 households.
Thanks to such efforts, along with traditional forms of employment like grape, lotus, and kiwi farming, tourism has also become an important source of income and way to escape poverty for residents of Yongtai and Nangshan, two formerly marginalized districts in the city of Deyang.