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Poverty Reduction 'Still a Challenge'

China, the world leader in poverty reduction, faces mounting challenges to improve the standards of living for the poor because of factors including climate change and widening income gaps, a senior official said yesterday.

"The number of poor population remains large," said Fan Xiaojian, the minister of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.

Fan was speaking at the opening session of a three-day conference in Beijing.

The conference, "Taking Action for the World's Poor and Hungry People", which coincides with the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, was jointly organized by the office and International Food policy Research Institute.

By 2006, there were 21.48 million rural poor still facing shortages of food and clothing, and 35.5 million low-income earners. The poor population accounts for 6 percent of the population in rural areas and 13.7 percent in the western regions.

Fan said that number would be up to 100 million poor people if the World Bank measurement of US$1 a day was taken into account.

China's poverty line benchmark is slightly lower. Extreme poverty population in rural areas dropped from 250 million in 1978 to 21.48 million in 2006, with incidences of poverty from 30.7 percent to 2.3 percent.

Fan blamed "backward development" in poverty-stricken regions for slowing the poverty-reduction process.

"The poorest people live in harsh ecological conditions, mostly in remote areas, where natural resources are scarce, and public services are less available," Fan said.

The problems become even more acutely affected by rising disasters caused by climate change. Half of arable land in China is often affected by natural disasters.

"In addition to natural hazards and personal reasons, market and policy risks have often led to poverty among farmers who rely on the traditional agriculture economy," Fan said.

The widening income gap between rural and urban China, between different regions and groups of residents has not yet been resolved.

(China Daily October 18, 2007)

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