LHASA, China – China will lift 5 million people who still live below the poverty line above the threshold before the end of the year, Chinese Poverty Reduction Office Deputy Director Hou Yongjian said recently in an interview with EFE during a government-organized trip to Tibet.
If the living conditions of those 5 million who live in the most isolated areas are improved, China will have managed to lift some 850 million people out of poverty – more than half of its population – since 1979, when it began the process of opening up and reforming.
The task has been “very tough,” but it has been achieved thanks to the involvement of the Chinese population at all levels, Hou said.
How much is left to complete the program and in what areas?
There are 52 counties in seven provinces in the west and southwest of the country that have not yet escaped poverty, representing 5 million people. These are the most complicated cases, in rural areas with difficult access, but we have to achieve it and we are going to do it before the end of 2020. This year, due to the pandemic, we have lost almost six months of work (…) but we are determined to achieve it.
It is said that China uses a lower poverty threshold than that of organizations like the World Bank. Is that so?
In 2000, we set our threshold at 2,300 yuan per year, which we considered to meet the basic living needs of poor people. Since then we have been increasing it, in line with inflation. In 2019, it was effectively 4,000 yuan per year, which is $1.6 per day, but if we calculate this figure in real purchasing power it is $2.2 per day. In September 2015, the World Bank set the threshold at $1.9 per day.
How much has China invested in the program so far?
We have different sources of funding. There is a special fund from the central government budget, which has increased by 20,000 million yuan ($2,992 million) annually since 2012. In the last five years, 400,000 million yuan ($59,850 million) have been invested through this fund. There is also another item, transfers from the west to the east of the country, the total of which we have not yet calculated, but which will represent several times those 400,000 million yuan.
By the end of 2020, how many people will have been lifted out of poverty in China since the start of the project?
Since 2012, the year in which the XVIII Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) set the goal of ending poverty by 2020 involving all sectors of society, 93.8 million people have left poverty and there remain 5 million. Previously, since 1978, some 750 million had passed the threshold. The total would be about 850 million people.
How many people have been relocated?
Since 2012, 9.6 million people across the country. The relocation is complete. There are still people who need to be relocated to prevent natural disasters, for ecological preservation reasons or to help people who live in high-altitude areas with a short life expectancy.
About 90 million have escaped poverty by staying in their homes, where infrastructure, resources, access to education, health or drinking water have been improved, in addition to making their homes safer. Some have been renovated and, in many cases, have had to be demolished and new ones built. Renovating your houses does not by itself improve your living conditions.
Other measures include developing new industries and applying technologies to improve crops. New types of vegetables and plants have been introduced and also given training courses to give them better vocational skills.
Have rehousing policies always been voluntary?
Yes, they were voluntary everywhere. We asked them if they wanted to do it of their own free will and we signed a contract with them to confirm that they agreed, that they wanted to move and be relocated.
And have the labor transfer policies been voluntary as well?
The transfer of workforces has been done, for the most part, based on your own wishes. Many who found good jobs in the big cities told their friends and family to go there. In addition, the Government has subsidized travel.
For the most part? Does that mean some don’t?
There is one point to mention. In this pandemic year, the transfer of the workforce has been reduced. The government has launched supportive policies to coordinate eastern China’s companies and cooperatives with western workforces. Special flights have been organized to transfer workers from the eastern part, thus also preventing the spread of the virus.
What have been the main difficulties in lifting so many millions of people out of poverty?
It has been very hard and complicated work, but for us it is glorious to complete it. There is a figure that gives an idea: in the last five years, 1,500 officials dedicated to reducing poverty at the first level, the one closest to the people, have sadly died. Many in traffic accidents, because they had to access very remote areas with little road development. Others due to excessive stress, working too many overtime hours, have suffered heart attacks.
Our work is very difficult because we have a large population and a vast area.
One can imagine Tibet would be one of the most difficult areas to end poverty due to the isolation of its population and yet they have already managed to eradicate it this year.
Tibet has done a very good job and much of it is due to investment from the central government. Of 100 yuan invested in the region, 90 are from the central government. In the past, people in Tibet had less education and lived in isolation, so it was very difficult to achieve this goal. The central government has sent many workers to help with and lead the projects. And now we pay great attention to promoting ethnic Tibetan officials, many party secretaries at the county level.
Could this program be a model for other countries?
You need a strong government that plays a leading role in the entire process. This model may not be applicable to other countries. In Africa, for example, it might not work. We need to cooperate, know the practices of others and share experiences without reservation.
The last counties present very difficult problems, it takes not only a large amount of money, but also the effort of the whole society at all levels.
Is there transparency about the funds invested in the program and how they are used?
The transparency of money is very important, it is the foundation of this work. The accounts are posted on the program’s website, where one can see where each game has gone and which project. All investments are published there, it is illegal to hide information.
How many people have worked on the program?
Since 2012, more than 2 million people. Resident officers at the county level number more than 800,000.
Do you think that it is more difficult for democratic countries to fight poverty, just as it is being more difficult for them than for China to fight the coronavirus?
I don’t think that one party or many are important, the important thing is that people can benefit. The world is so big that we do not need a single model that applies to all countries. To be frank, China, like other countries, is not perfect in its poverty reduction program, there may be cases of corruption, which are very difficult to eliminate.