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Climate change root cause for poverty, says report
By Yu Tianyu (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-06-18 09:41

Climate change has emerged as the main reason for poverty in China as over 95 percent of the poor live in ecologically fragile areas and are the most affected by the changing patterns, according to a new report.

The report goes on to add that a map of China's poverty-stricken areas overlaps the map of the country's ecologically fragile regions.

Titled "Climate Change and Poverty: a Case Study of China", the report released yesterday was initiated by Greenpeace China and Oxfam Hong Kong, with joint efforts of experts and researchers from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) and local meteorological officials in Sichuan, Guangdong and Gansu.

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It said in the past 50 years, the direct economic losses at Mabian county in Sichuan province due to torrential rain and flood-related disasters have dramatically increased. From 2001 to 2008, the average annual direct economic losses were around 23.8 billion yuan, compared to 9.7 billion yuan in 50 years.

Lin Erda, a member of China's national climate change expert panel and a senior researcher with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, however, feels that China has an outstanding track record in poverty alleviation.

According to statistics by State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, there were 250 million people living in absolute poverty in the country. By 2007, however, it had shrunk to 14.8 million, accounting for 1.6 percent of the country's total population.

However, case studies from Guangdong, Sichuan and Gansu provinces show that global warming does induce floods, snowstorms and landslides, which are detrimental to ecologically sensitive areas and hamper poverty relief efforts.

"The current poverty alleviation projects in China are mainly focused on income improvement. Money helps only those people who are living in ecologically favorable regions as natural disasters often push people in the sensitive regions back into poverty," said Xu Yinlong, a CAAS expert.

"China's poverty alleviation efforts for the past few decades could be seriously undermined unless the government takes the initiative to forge an aggressive climate rescue treaty in the Copenhagen climate conference in December," said Li Yan, Greenpeace China climate campaigner.

"Developed countries are largely responsible for causing climate change. They should provide at least $50 billion annually to help developing countries take measures to adapt to climate change," said Li Ning, officer of Oxfam's Climate Change Program.

Li added that the developing countries, including China, should give priority to climate change adaptation measures, such as anti-drought and anti-flood crops, improving infrastructure and elevating bridges and roads in flood-prone areas."

Ma Jianjun, a 19-year-old Hui ethnic boy, is one of thousands of children who grew up at Hongsipu Development Zone, China's largest relocation and poverty reduction project that has been built on a broad stretch of reclaimed desert in Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

Ma recalls that when his family lived at Xihaigu, a place which was listed as one of the world's most uninhabitable zones by the United Nations World Food Program due to its extreme environment, they did not have enough to eat and had an annual income of about 500 yuan or even less and the place was very windy and dusty all year round.

The relocation has helped hundreds of thousands in Ningxia enjoy a better life after the local government began the program in 1998.

Covering about 2,000 sq km, Hongsipu now has more than about 2,700 hectares of irrigable land and is home to 200,000 migrants.

In 2008, the GDP of Hongsipu was 502 million yuan, an increase of 12.9 percent over the previous year, while farmer's average net income reached 2,660 yuan, a 16.5 percent increase.

However, Chinese farmers' average net income stood at 4,761 yuan in 2008.

Li of Oxfam said ecological migration needs a huge amount of investment and also takes a long time to bear fruit.