China's poorest counties named

By Yang Jingjie Source:Global Times Published: 2012-3-20 0:53:00

The country's task force for poverty alleviation Monday updated a list of 592 key counties in the national program to reduce poverty, which are expected to receive billions of yuan in fiscal support from the government.

The State Council's Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development unveiled the list on its official website.

Of the 592 counties, 217 are in the central region, and the rest are in the west of the country. More than 230 of these impoverished counties are located in provinces or regions inhabited by ethnic minorities.

Yunnan Province topped the list with 73 counties. It is followed by Guizhou and Shaanxi provinces, with each having 50 counties included in the list.

In 1986, the country designated 273 counties as national poverty-stricken counties. In 1994, the number was raised to 592, which has stayed as a cap for the poverty reduction program since then.

Over the past two decades, the list has undergone three major adjustments with over half of the counties replaced. In 2001, the government decided to exclude all counties in coastal areas from the list, leading to 33 such counties being dropped.

To be considered for the list, the counties are evaluated by factors such as the population living below the poverty line, per capita net income and per capita government revenue.

According to Caixin, the central government has allocated annual fiscal support of more than 20 billion yuan ($3.2 billion) for poverty alleviation, with each county in the list receiving tens of millions of yuan in subsidies.

Zhuang Jian, a senior economist with the Asian Development Bank, told the Global Times that the program has played quite a significant role in poverty alleviation by providing fiscal and technical support to poverty-stricken regions.

"In many listed counties, we have witnessed an improvement in the local infrastructure as well as people's access to drinking water and electricity," Zhuang said.

According to a white paper released in November outlining the progress made in poverty reduction, from 2001 to 2010, 592 counties in the program have seen an average annual growth of 17 percent in their per capita gross regional product.

The per capita net income of farmers has grown by an annual average of 11 percent in the same period.

Du Xiaoshan, a researcher at the Rural Development Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted that the global halving of the poverty rate by 2015 stated in the UN Millennium Development Goals seems well within reach, mainly due to a drop in China's poverty rate.

However, given such a large amount of fiscal support, Du told the Global Times that some poverty-stricken areas even covet the title of 'impoverished county.'

In late 2011, an LED billboard set up by Xinshao county in Hunan Province to celebrate its inclusion in the poverty reduction program drew criticism after a photo of the billboard went viral on the Internet. Xinshao wasn't included in the new list.

Meanwhile, Zhuang noted that a major bottleneck for such a large-scale program is its failure to target the neediest population, despite its achievement in raising the general income of the impoverished regions.

Du echoed the sentiment, indicating that some of the funds are not appropriately allocated and used.

"Problems like fund appropriation and misuse are not uncommon, and can only be solved with a transparent operation mechanism," Du said, stressing that the funds should be cautiously used to solve urgent problems.

China has redefined the level at which people in rural areas are considered poor by raising the official poverty line, despite a booming economy.

The new threshold of about $1 a day set last year is nearly double the previous amount, meaning that 128 million Chinese in rural areas now qualify as poor, 100 million more than under the previous standard.

Du indicated that the urbanization process, which has resulted in a massive migration of the rural labor force, has also had an impact on efforts to alleviate poverty.

"The lack of a young or male workforce would absolutely affect the development of villages, though they could help raise household incomes by sending back the money they earned in cities," Du said.

Rural finance is seen as another challenge.

Seeing current fiscal support as insufficient for the eradication of poverty, Zhuang called for a reform of in the financing system.

"Although rural credit cooperatives and agricultural banks have been established to help farmers solve financing difficulties, they lack the motivation to hand out loans to farmers," Zhuang said, adding that successful overseas practices such as micro-financing should be promoted in the country. 

Yang Jinghao and Xinhua contributed to this story

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