Path out of poverty: China undertakes massive relocation project

08:20, May 10, 2011      

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Packing up his home's only appliance, an old TV set, 50-year-old farmer Gao Xueping waves farewell to his primitive dwelling in a plateau in northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

"It is heartbreaking to leave the land we have lived in for so long. However, this is our last chance to escape the poverty that has lingered for generations," Gao says.

Gao and his family are part of a relocation project involving some 2.8 million people, the largest project of its kind ever undertaken by the Chinese government. The number of people being relocated is about twice as many as the number of people relocated to make way for China's Three Gorges Dam.

Over the next ten years, Shaanxi will relocate 2.4 million people currently living in its disaster-prone southern region, while another 400,000 will be relocated from its northern part.

Shaanxi is vulnerable to a variety of natural disasters, including landslides and floods. In July 2010, nearly 300 people died or went missing in rain-triggered disasters in the province.


"This relocation project is for the benefit of the people," says Shaanxi Province governor Zhao Zhengyong. "It aims to give people a safer and more convenient environment in which to live their lives."

The relocation project will involve two specific areas in Shaanxi: the southern Qinling-Bashan mountainous region and the northern Baiyu mountainous region.

These are two of China's most impoverished regions, with the Qinling-Bashan region often wracked by floods and landslides. Major floods occur there about every three and a half years, on average.

"The huge mountains and deep valleys in our village put our homes in danger when there are heavy rains," said Hong Yuanping, a villager from the village of Xinfeng in the Qinling-Bashan region.

"Floods can level our houses and destroy or fields at any time. We are eager and excited to move," Hong says.

Hong's village is located near the city of Ankang, which was hit by a severe flood in July 2010. The flood left 182 people dead or missing and leveled 30,000 homes in the city.

"Disasters in this region are unavoidable. The only way is to move people to safe and livable places," says Fang Weifeng, mayor of Ankang.


On the opposite side of the spectrum, northern Shaanxi's Baiyu mountainous region regularly contends not with massive amounts of rain, but a lack of precipitation.

For Gao and other farmers living there, drought-inflicted poverty is a way of life. Villagers often have just enough water to take one bath each year. Gao's 80-year-old mother has never even left her village.

Gao can barely support his family by growing potatoes and grain. The family receives a limited afforestation subsidy of two thousand yuan (about 307 U.S. dollars), but it is often not enough to cover all their needs.

However, Gao says the government will subsidize those families that are moving to new homes in nearby townships.

"The relocation program will help my mother realize her dream of seeing a bigger town, and make it possible for my own child to receive better education," Gao says.

When the county government asked him if he would like to move his family, a quick "yes" was all he needed to say.

"I will certainly miss this area, but this is the only chance to save my family and myself from poverty," says Gao.

Zhang Baotong, a renowned economist and director of the Shaanxi Economic Development Research Institute, says that this kind of massive relocation is a new method of poverty reduction, and one that demonstrates the unique strengths of China.

Such a large-scale relocation program requires a great deal of strength and financial resources, things that China has accumulated in recent years, Zhang says.


"Shaanxi will respect the wishes of its citizens during the relocation process," says governor Zhao. The relocation will not be easy to implement, and the local governments are striving to ensure that all of its relocated people will be satisfied with their new homes.

According to Xie Haomin, director of the relocation office of the provincial government's poverty-reduction department, people living in the Baiyu mountainous region who make an annual salary of less than 1,500 yuan (about 230 U.S. dollars) will be moved soon to more livable homes.

The government will support those being relocated by offering them vocational training programs and farming equipment. Those being relocated will be settled in small towns with better-developed economies and environments.

Zhang says that compared with other relocation projects, this project is designed to help those being relocated adapt to their new homes more easily. Zhang says this project is also cheaper to implement than previous relocation efforts.

"This project is a new path to prosperity in that it offers professional training and new opportunities for employment. It will be an effective method for reducing poverty in China," Zhang says.

Source: Xinhua
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