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Officials: Relocation Best Remedy for Poverty Relief

Two senior government officials have recommended the relocation of millions of Chinese as a better way to remove them from abject poverty than expensive development schemes.

The organization of migrant workers and relocation of households would serve better in China's campaign to lift its remaining 26.1 million people out of absolute poverty, insisted Liu Jinqi, deputy director of the foreign affairs office for the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Regional Government.

Asked by Xinhua to comment on the achievements of the 25-year state-backed poverty eradication campaign in northwest China, Liu said, "Poverty eradication is getting more difficult day by day and the progress is slowing noticeably."

Wang Guoliang, deputy head of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, also said poverty eradication for 26.1 million Chinese in abject poverty would be extremely difficult as their living environments were execrable, with poor conditions for agriculture, backward infrastructure, and social underdevelopment.

"I don't think the conventional methods of eradicating poverty, such as the launch of development projects with large amounts of funding, will produce the desired effect," said Wang.

"The reality in parts of northwest China's Gansu and Ningxia has made us realize that it is necessary to change our thinking and do better at organizing migrant labor if we want breakthroughs in poverty eradication," said Liu.

"We should take the initiative to form partnerships with economically developed coastal areas to expand channels for migrant labor," Liu said.

Liu cited Hexi and Dingxi, both in Gansu, and Xihaigu in Ningxia -- collectively known as Sanxi and renowned as the poorest areas in the country.

Sanxi, with a current population of 12 million, was selected as the first area for trial development programs in 1982, when the number of people in abject poverty totaled 5.22 million.

At that time, the state began to set aside 200 million yuan annually to support development projects, such as greenhouse horticulture, hoping Sanxi -- notorious for its rugged mountain terrain, scarce rainfall, and poor agricultural conditions -- would see poverty eradicated in 10 years.

Failing to meet the target, both Gansu and Ningxia in 1992 requested the central government to grant a grace period of another 10 years. In 2002, Gansu and Ningxia renewed their appeal, asking for continued financial support from the central government.

Today, 1.1 million people still suffer from abject poverty in Sanxi, said Liu.

"Instead of blindly pumping huge amounts of money into Sanxi, which was once cited by a United Nations organization as unsuitable for human habitation, we should do more to persuade residents to move to areas with better conditions for subsistence," said Liu.

Relocated farmers should be taught to work in non-farming sectors so that they could earn a living in new areas.

Li Wenlu, director of the Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development in Ningxia, blamed local farmers' dependence on the weather for agricultural production for the vast number of poor people in Sanxi.

Su Guoxia, another senior official with the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, said it was imperative to mobilize the whole country to participate in poverty eradication.

"I also believe the state must continue to intensify infrastructure construction in poverty-ridden areas, with priority going to tasks such as forestation of farmland, facilities for rain collection and efficient irrigation, power, and water supply, so that a solid foundation will be laid for a sustainable development in the poverty-hit areas," said Su.

Wen Guoliang, director of the office for poverty alleviation and development of Dingxi, Gansu Province, thought 668 yuan, China's threshold for abject poverty, was too low and had remained unchanged for too long.

"Experience from Dingxi suggests the abject poverty threshold should be raised to 1,500 yuan," said Wen. "Even the higher level is much lower than international poverty standards set by organizations such as the World Bank."

The Chinese government decided to embark on a poverty eradication campaign in a large, planned, organized manner in 1986. The number of Chinese in abject poverty has dropped from 250 million in 1978 to 26.1 million in 2004.

(Xinhua News Agency June 29, 2007)

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