Turning poverty alleviation from a great dream into reality
As China rings in the New Year, it is racing against the clock to fulfill a promise its leadership has made: lifting 10 million rural residents out of poverty, which translates into more than 800,000 people a month, or about 20 every minute.
China had about 43.35 million people living below the national poverty line, that is, earning less than 2,300 yuan ($354) a year at the end of 2016. And it has pledged to eliminate abject poverty by the end of 2020, which means lifting at least 10 million people out of poverty a year.
This is a "figure-infested" article, but the numbers, while otherwise head-numbing, are heartening. Take, for instance, President Xi Jinping's New Year's speech, including a poem, which he delivered on Sunday. It contains a series of numbers: "How I wish I could have 10,000 houses to provide shelter for all who need it," he said, quoting poet Du Fu of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), adding that in 2017, about 3.4 million people were relocated from poverty-stricken areas and now live in new houses.
Xi also reiterated he remains committed to honoring his promise of lifting all rural residents out of poverty by the end of 2020. "After three years, we will win the final phase of the war on poverty. This will be the first time in thousands of years of Chinese history that extreme poverty has been eliminated," Xi said.
Poverty reduction was also part of Xi's speech at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on Oct 18 and one of the top tasks of the Central Economic Work Conference last month.
In China, the government's role in poverty relief is most evident in national poverty reduction programs. Following the first such plan in 1994, which aimed to lift 80 million rural residents out of poverty in seven years through 2000, China has initiated two consecutive national poverty relief programs, each lasting a decade - for the years from 2001 through 2020.
In December 2016, China issued a special five-year plan to ramp up the poverty-alleviation efforts. Perhaps it is safe to say that one of the most inspiring lessons of China's poverty relief program is its practice of setting a timetable and mobilizing resources to live up to its strategy.
The plans ensure the policies and priorities are geared toward achieving the targets in each phase, and enough funds are allocated for the job. The past four years have seen China pool 196.1 billion yuan for poverty relief, with an annual growth of 19 percent, which helped to lift more than 60 million people out of poverty and thus reduced the poverty rate from 10.2 percent to less than 4 percent.
A targeted inspection on the use and management of poverty relief funds in 28 regions from March to May this year retrieved 730 million yuan of misused poverty reduction funds, and nearly 450 people have been investigated and punished for fraudulent claims or misappropriation of funds, Xinhua reported on Saturday, citing sources from the Ministry of Finance and the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.
While the elimination of poverty has long been a major task for humanity, until now it has been deemed a utopian dream, said Bill Jones, Washington bureau chief of Economic Intelligence Review. Globally, more than 800 million people are still living on less than $1.25 a day, many lacking access to adequate food, clean drinking water and sanitation, according to the United Nations Development Programme. "With China that dream is now becoming a reality, and has created a tremendous amount of optimism that it can also be eliminated globally," Jones told China Daily.
Interestingly, a Pew Research Center poll result released on Dec 14 showed about 67 percent of the people in the United States want the government to play a "major role" in such issues as poverty alleviation, up from 55 percent two years ago.
The author is deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily USA.