Relocation campaign helps fight poverty in hinterland

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Twenty-five years after Yang Guifang's family moved out of their native village in Guyuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, the sight of what she used to call home stunned her. The rolling hills and barren land have long been appraised by the United Nations as being unfit for human habitation.

A family in Minning, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, sits in front of their home more than 20 years ago when the development of the new town just got underway. [File Photo/Xinhua] Children play in Minning last month. The town has developed into a model for the region's relocation project. From 1996 to 2017, at least 60,000 residents of the mountainous areas of Ningxia chose to be relocated to Minning, where they found new jobs and saw their incomes rise substantially. [Photo/Xinhua]

"At the time, my father was the only breadwinner in our family, and my grandparents and mother would have loved to contribute, but couldn't due to health reasons. Taking his children out of the mountains was the only hope for him at the time," said the 36-year-old lawyer based in Yinchuan, the region's capital.

Yang's family was among 350,000 poor villagers whose lives, along with their children's, have been changed by a massive relocation project in 1993 that aimed to resettle impoverished villagers from southern Ningxia to places that could support sustainable development and provide job opportunities.

They went to Lucaowa settlement camp near Yinchuan, with the camp later evolving into the town of Liangtian. With help from the local government, newcomers like Yang's family built new homes along with greenhouses to cultivate cucumbers and tomatoes. Incomes from crops gave hope to the relocated farmers.

"The relocation opened up farmers' minds, and they found enthusiasm and hope for a new life," said Yang.

Ningxia's current population of 6.82 million includes people from many ethnic groups such as Hui, Uygur and Dongxiang. About 20 percent of China's Hui population lives in Ningxia and a majority of them are Muslim.

The region's GDP reached 345 billion yuan ($50.3 billion) in 2017, more than 1,000 times what it was in 1958. Ningxia's per capita GDP in 2017 was 50,197 yuan, an increase of about 284 times over the past six decades, representing an average annual growth rate of 7 percent.

As a landlocked region, poor transportation infrastructure has long been a factor hampering development.

Since the early 1980s, Ningxia has launched several relocation programs with 1.2 million people seeking better lives elsewhere in the region, according to the regional government.

The region has seen the number of impoverished people cut by 3.3 million since poverty relief efforts began in 1983, and the last three decades have seen the effort become more sustainable and targeted.

As proof of its success, by the end of last year, the impoverished population was less than a quarter of that in 2011, and the average income has doubled.

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