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More Funds Needed to Lift Villagers out of Poverty

After cutting its rural poverty-stricken population by an impressive 80 percent in 20 years, China finds itself mired in the fight against entrenched destitution in the remote interior, especially among ethnic minorities.

With relatively large impoverished populations and fewer opportunities for upward mobility, these areas would remain destitute, said Fan Xiaojian, deputy chief of the State Council Leading Group of Poverty Alleviation and Development.

"Most of these areas are sparsely populated habitats for minority nationalities, where the destitute and low-income population comprises more than 40 percent of local rural residents," he said.

Overall, only six percent of the country's rural population or 57 million were destitute, officially defined as earning no more than 683 yuan (US$92) per year, or low-income, earning no more than 889 yuan per year.

Of China's 592 officially designated key poverty-alleviation counties, 267 are inhabited by ethnic minorities, official figures reveal.

Unlike other regions that have taken the lead to lift their inhabitants out of poverty, Fan said that these minority habitats are more closed to the outside world, less developed and often plagued by an adverse natural environment.

"Loss of land, rising living costs triggered by market fluctuations and insufficient infrastructure facilities for social services often compound the difficulty of poverty elimination," he said.

The government has drawn up preferential policies, including taxation privileges, and increased financial support to these areas. This year, the minimum subsistence allowance, which was formerly reserved for urban dwellers, has started to expand to rural areas.

Apart from the habitats for minority nationalities, Fan said that the areas marked by stone mountains, deserts, loess plateaus, high-altitude and low-temperature hilly regions are also tough nuts to crack.

The cost of poverty alleviation in these areas is very high as lots of people need to be relocated to somewhere with a better natural environment and more resources, he said.

Fan said about 148,000 poverty-stricken villages were scattered in such areas, where nearly 33 percent of residents are either destitute or low-income. He said the government should channel more funds into poverty alleviation so that more rural citizens could share in the country's economic and social development.

(Shanghai Daily November 27, 2007)

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