Boat residents on central China lake settle on land with gov't support

18:44, February 22, 2010      

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Some 7,550 people living on boats in Hunan Province have been persuaded to live on the land in new apartments with the help of a government subsidy.

Xiao Yongzhong, 36, paid 40,000 yuan (5,857 U.S. dollars) for a 75-square-meter apartment at the end of last year with the support of a 20,000 yuan government subsidy.

The subsidy is designed to encourage permanent boat residents to move and live on the land.

The market price for his apartment would have been above 80,000 yuan, Xiao said.

"It's the first warm winter we've ever spent. It's like a dream," Xiao said sitting beside an electric heater with his wife and son in the three-bedroom apartment in Yueyang County, Dongting Lake region.

"Before, we spent every day in an 8-square-meter houseboat for fishing. I thought I would live like this for the rest of my life," Xiao said.

The couple suffered serious rheumatism and schistosomiasis like many other fishing people in the region.

Dongting Lake, China's second largest freshwater lake, has been home to thousands of fishing households unable to afford life on the land.

Many of them suffer waterborne diseases and are not able to enjoy social welfare services or preferential policies for farmers, according to Deng Weimin, deputy director of Hunan Bureau of Livestock and Aquatic Products.

Hunan launched the project in February last year to help fishermen settle down on the land.

So far, about 7,550 people in 2,322 households of Yueyang, Yiyang and Changde cities in the Dongting Lake region have been relocated to apartments with 46.64 million yuan in government subsidies, according to Deng.

More than 2,000 government officials have made door-to-door visits, persuading fishing households to quit their lake life.

Moreover, 3,096 houseboat dwellers are expected to have their dilapidated houses on the land fixed by next month with the subsidy.

The new village established for Xiao and other fishermen is equipped with a community center offering medical and other basic services.

More than 10,400 eligible fishermen have received low-income living allowances and nearly 40,000 were enlisted in the medical insurance system for farmers. Many have received free medical treatment for their diseases and more than 2,600 children have entered schools.

"As the fishermen have settled down on the land, the government can offer them better services, and problems like security, schistosomiasis, shrinking fishery resources and a worsening water-land ecosystem have become easier to address," said Deng.

Local authorities are also offering training opportunities to the fishing population.

Hunan has invested more than 10 million yuan in offering training courses such as driving, cooking, breeding and computer skills and has created 2,248 job opportunities. More than 4,000 villagers have quit fishing.

Zhong Chaoqing, a former fisherman, is building a fish pond in front of his two-story apartment.

"I will not float on the lake any more. But I hope fish farming will bring me profits," he said.

While helping the fishing people to improve their living conditions, the project is also aimed at repairing ecological system and promoting lake rehabilitation, according to Deng.

Source: Xinhua
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