82 million still under poverty line in China

By Agatha Yuen Source:Global Times Published: 2014-10-15 0:33:09

GDP ‘ineffective’ as measure of prosperity in poor regions

At least 82 million people in China are still suffering from poverty, despite the country being the second-largest economy in the world, the country's poverty alleviation task force announced Tuesday.

Zheng Wenkai, vice-minister of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, told a press conference in Beijing that poverty is still a salient problem in China.

"Up to the end of 2013, demographically, 82.49 million people are still trapped in poverty according to China's poverty line, and 200 million according to the international one," he said.

According to a standard adopted in 2011, rural residents with an annual net income of about $375 or less are classified as poor in China. The country's poverty line is equivalent to less than $1 a day, while extreme poverty, according to the World Bank, is measured according to the international poverty line of $1.25 a day (in 2005 prices).

Data from the office also shows that 120,000 villages, 832 key counties and counties in extremely poor contiguous regions remain poverty-stricken.

Poor people are not only poorly paid, but also beset by unavailability of water, roads, electricity, schooling, healthcare and cannot access higher incomes or loans.

Zheng admitted that there are difficulties in solving the problems as poor populations are concentrated in extremely poor contiguous regions with poor living conditions, inadequate infrastructure as well as being afflicted with natural disasters.

"It's a tough nut to crack. Poverty is a weak point for our goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects by 2020," he added.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated earlier that China will surpass the US in terms of GDP, becoming the largest economy in the world as China in 2014 has reached $17.6 trillion or 16.48 percent of the world's purchasing-power-adjusted GDP, which is 0.2 percentage points more than the US.

Li Shi, director of the China Institute for Income Distribution at Beijing Normal University, said that he is not surprised by the number of those classified as being in poverty as China has a huge population compared to other countries, so it is understandable that it has a relatively high population below the poverty line.

Wang Xiaolu, a deputy director of the National Economic Research Institute at the China Reform Foundation, said GDP does not truly reflect the poverty situation of a country but it is the GDP per capita that matters.

China's GDP may seem to be overtaking the US, but China's per capita GDP in 2013 was only $6,767, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, while that in the US in the same year was $53,143, according to the World Bank.

The poverty alleviation authority Tuesday also vowed to reform a program assisting counties designated as national poverty-stricken counties after widespread public complaints over some of these counties' misuse of poverty alleviation funds and their reluctance to exit the program.

Su Guoxia, an official with the poverty alleviation office, told reporters that the authorities will take three steps to tackle the problem. This will include cancelation or reduction of the proportion of GDP in the assessment of poverty-stricken counties, establishing a restraint mechanism to prohibit counties from unnecessary infrastructure projects and establishing an exit mechanism for poor counties with incentives.

Du Xiaoshan, a deputy director at the Rural Development Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that the strategies suggested would be an effective way to tackle poverty as different development zones have different problems and needs.

"In counties that have a rather poor ecological or environmental problem, the GDP should not be assessed. The assessment should focus on the recovery of its ecology and environment, such as air and water quality. These places should be assessed more on the stability of people's livelihoods, such as employment levels. These strategies will allow officials to concentrate more on improving people's living standards rather than blindly constructing roads and shopping malls," he said.

China is set to observe its first Poverty Alleviation Day on October 17, which coincides with the UN's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. The day aims to call on the public to show concern for the poor and pro-poor programs and to encourage wider participation.

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