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Mainland ‘has poverty beat’

Hong Kong iMail, 18 November 2000 12:40 AM

BEIJING: A top official says the mainland has eradicated absolute poverty and now has the lowest poverty rate in the developing world.

But the official, from the State Council, set the poverty benchmark at an annual income of just 635 yuan (HK$599), the Xinhua News Agency said yesterday. This is far below the World Bank standard of US$1 (HK$7.80) a day.

Gao Hongbin, general director of the council's leading group office of poverty alleviation and development, said the poverty rate was now below 3per cent in rural areas, where more than 70per cent of the mainland's 1.26 billion people lived.

At present, except for some 26 million handicapped people or those living in areas with extremely bad natural environments, we have succeeded in eliminating absolute poverty in the country, he said.

Mr Gao said that 635 yuan was enough for rural residents to enjoy basic necessities, that is, to have enough to eat and wear and to have a place to dwell.

Per capita income among the 870 million rural residents last year was 2,210 yuan, according to the national bureau of statistics.

According to the UN Development Programme, Beijing's poverty-alleviation strategy only applies to the rural population and so far there is no cohesive programme aimed at urban areas.

Through hard work and huge investment, Mr Gao said, the government had succeeded in achieving the goal of eradicating poverty, set by Beijing in 1994 , by this year. The target was to lift 80 million peasants above the poverty line.

But state media reported early this year that Beijing was failing to meet the deadline with only 46 million people having escaped poverty so far. Millions were said to have slipped back into destitution, mainly due to natural disasters last year.

This is the first time in history that the mainland has solved the food and clothing problem for all its citizens on the whole, Mr Gao said. It is a marvellous achievement and of great epoch-making meaning.

Beijing had spent 24.8 billion yuan on poverty alleviation last year, 30 times more than in 1980, Mr Gao said.

However, Xinhua said that eliminating absolute poverty on the whole doesn't mean that China's battle against poverty has come to an end. China will have an even longer way to go to ultimately eliminate poverty.