Official: China's poverty line too low
Updated: 2006-08-23 19:37

CHENGDU -- China's poverty line of 680 yuan (US$85) per capita net income a year is too low for subsistence and fails to spread the benefits of the country's economic boom, a poverty relief official has said.

China's economy surged by 10.9 percent in the first half of 2006, the fastest rise in a decade. But the poverty line failed to reflect the average standard of living, said Wu Zhong, an official in charge of international cooperation and poverty reduction with the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.

At the end of last year, China had 23.65 million people living below the poverty line.

But China's poor actually totaled 120 million to 130 million, using the internationally-accepted one US dollar per day guideline, said Wu.

"The 23.65 million below the Chinese poverty line are actually people struggling in abject poverty and even food, clothing and shelter are a problem for them," he told an international symposium on poverty and international cooperation in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province.

"So another 100 million poor people have not been categorized as poor and therefore are not getting the help they need," he added.

China set a poverty line of 206 yuan in 1986, which was approximately US$50 if calculated at the then exchange rate and was about half of a farmer's annual income.

Today, 680 yuan, or US$85, is just 20 percent of the average annual per capita income of the country's rural population.

"We must not take the poverty line as unalterable or simply copy the international standard," said Du Ping, an official with the planning department of the Leading Group under the State Council for the Development of the Western Regions.

A more "scientific" standard to evaluate poverty should be set in line with price rises and national revenue increases to ensure the low-income brackets also shared the benefits of social and economic development, said Du.

The government had made huge efforts over the past two decades to reduce poverty and improve the general quality of life.

This year alone the central government allocated 13.4 billion yuan (US$1.675 billion) to poverty reduction and the amount would rise, said Liu Jian, director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.

The latest figures from Liu's office show that in the 592 poverty-stricken counties to which the central government had provided priority poverty reduction support, 79 percent of villages had been linked to the outside by highways, 95.8 percent had access to electricity and 70 percent had access to safe drinking water by the end of last year.

Moreover, 73.8 percent of villages had installed fixed-line telephone services and 87.6 percent had access to television.

The figures also show 94.7 percent of school age children are attending school and the people enjoy better and more convenient medical services.

However, Liu said challenges remained.

"For example, there are still inadequate food supplies in many poverty-hit areas," he said.

In a survey of 100 poverty-stricken counties across China last year, Liu's office found about 36.4 percent of households suffered from food shortages.