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The dream of eradicating poverty about to be realized

By Zhen Li | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-01-01 11:49

Farm workers harvest organic vegetables in a greenhouse in Henan province last month. [Photo by Niu Shupei/For China Daily]

When China pledged that it would lift all Chinese people out of absolute poverty by 2020, many doubted whether it would be able to realize the goal because, to the uninitiated, it was a task unachievable. Today, China is on the verge of achieving that goal.

China has already lifted out of poverty close to 800 million people – more than the total population of Latin America or the European Union — since the launch of reform and opening-up.

And as President Xi Jinping said in his New Year's address: "2020 will be a year of milestone significance. We will finish building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and realize the first centenary goal. 2020 will also be a year of decisive victory for the elimination of poverty."

That China's transformation has been driven by its political commitment and effective policy measures has been recognized by such international organizations as the United Nations, especially the UN Development Programme. The efforts of governments at all levels, from provinces and municipalities to counties and villages, to eradicate poverty have allowed the implementation of pilot projects to address local problems on the ground through a targeted poverty alleviation program and achieve unprecedented results.

No wonder the share of China's population living in absolute poverty dropped from 97.5 percent in 1978 to just 1.7 percent in 2019, while its per capita income increased 20-fold during the same period. In fact, China is the only country to have risen from the low to high category on the UNDP's human development index.

This fact found echo in President Xi's speech. "In 2019, we sweated and we toiled as we pressed ahead with concrete efforts for achievements. Thanks to our steady pursuit of high-quality development, China’s GDP is expected to edge close to 100 trillion yuan (14.36 trillion) with the per capita figure reaching the level of $10,000."

China's success in fighting poverty can also be attributed to the adequate allocation of financial and human resources to poverty-alleviation programs, as well as massive investments in infrastructure to connect remote, impoverished areas to the rest of the country, which provided people better access to services and markets and helped them improve their incomes and lives.

In 2019 alone, China allocated 126 billion yuan to poverty reduction programs. And since 2017, it has dispatched about 775,000 civil servants to impoverished villages to support local officials in implementing specific poverty-alleviating measures at the household level while monitoring and reviewing the progress at every step.

Besides, China's people-centric approach to reducing poverty aligns with the global vision of leaving no one behind enshrined in the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals — to end poverty, reduce inequality and protect the planet.

Yet China has to meet some challenges on way to building a moderately prosperous society in and all-round way. For instance, between 2000 and 2018, incomes of the bottom 40 percent of the Chinese population grew at just half the rate of the wealthiest 1 percent. And climate change is likely to widen this inequality, because the poor are most vulnerable to its effects. Slower economic growth and a fast aging population could make the problem even more serious, especially because it is becoming increasingly challenging for the country's shrinking workforce to support growth and social security.

China has to realize that poverty has many dimensions — indeed, poverty is a multifaceted problem — to overcome complex and interconnected challenges in 2020 and beyond. As such, the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) should focus on reducing relative poverty, and narrowing the wealth gap between rural and urban areas, as well as within cities and between generations and genders.

But as Xi said: "The bugle has sounded. United as one, we shall work harder. The greater the difficulties, the further we advance, strengthening our weak links even more and laying a more solid foundation to win the hard battle against poverty with determination, to lift all impoverished rural residents and counties out of poverty by current standards as scheduled."

And this should inspire other countries — perhaps to take a leaf out of China's "how-to-reduce-poverty" book — to intensify their fight against poverty in order to build a more equitable and balanced world for the betterment of the entire humankind.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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