The number of indigent Chinese with less than 637 yuan (US$77) of annual net income rose by 800,000 in 2003. This is the first time the number increased since China began opening-up in the late 1970s, said a senior Chinese official.
Due to the serious natural disasters, the number of poor in Henan, Anhui, Shanxi and Heilongjiang provinces increased to more than two million in 2003, causing the increase of the national total of poor population, said Liu Jian, director of China's State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.
In 2003, the number of inadequately fed and clothed poor was 29 million, 3 percent of China's population, statistics show.
This statistic is after 25 years of unremitting efforts. In 1978, just prior to the reform and opening to the rest of the world, China had 250 million people who were inadequately fed and clothed -- representing 30 percent of the population.
In 2001 and 2002, two million Chinese got above the poverty line each year. In the 1990s, the number of people getting out of poverty in China averaged six million, said Liu.
The gap between the annual income of the poor vs. the national average has become wider -- 1:2.45 in 1992 to 1:4.12 in 2003. The upper line of poor people's net income in 2003 was 637 yuan (US$77) while the average annual income reached 2,622 yuan (US$316).
Although facing some difficulties, China's poverty reduction endeavor achieved some progress in 2003. The average income of farmers in 592 impoverished counties increased by six percent in 2003, 1.7 percentage points more than the national average growth of farmer's income. Meanwhile, the number of low-income people, whose annual revenue under US$106.3, reduced by 1.28 million.
This year, China is facing new challenges in poverty reduction, among which, to increase farmers' income is of the most urgency, said Liu.
China will focus on improving the basic living and working conditions of poor areas, training poor people with professional skills and increasing their incomes by developing local enterprises.
Official statistics show that, due to historical reasons, the majority of China's poor population lives in rural areas. But the poor areas have witnessed significant improvements in their production and living conditions.
(Xinhua News Agency July 21, 2004)