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WB Loans Help Poverty Reduction

Wei Xuejun's life has been changed since 1998, when a poverty reduction project funded by World Bank loans provided him an opportunity to seek jobs in Guangdong's Dongguan City.

The 30-year-old from the Du'an Yao Autonomous County of Southwest China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is now working for the Xinmin Xinyi Glasses Corp.

He can earn an average of 1,000 yuan (US$120) in salary each month.

With that salary, he is not only able to eat rice and meat every day, but was also able to buy a set of decent clothes and a pair of leather shoes.

"The project offered me an opportunity to learn more," Wei said.

"I plan to open a clothing shop in my hometown sometime later."

But six years ago, he did not have such lofty ambitions, working very hard at that time to ensure that his family would not suffer from starvation.

He did not have much money and usually ate corn everyday. Only during major festivals such as the Chinese Lunar New Year could he eat rice and meat as delicacies.

He could not imagine what kind of lives other people led outside of the mountainous area where he lived.

Wei's experience during the past years is a success story tied to the Southwest China Poverty Reduction Project, the first large-scale multi-sector partnership between the Chinese Government and the World Bank.

The project, launched in 1995, benefits 2.8 million people in Guangxi, and in the provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou.

The project consists of eight major components:

Improving children's access to elementary school education.

Increasing accessibility to and enhancing the quality of basic health services provided to the poor at the village and township levels.

Increasing the access of the impoverished to jobs in urban and industrialized areas of China.

Improving access to transport, drinking water, electricity and other basic services.

Increasing upland agricultural productivity and reversing the trend of environmental degradation.

Enhancing the development of local township and village enterprises.

Strengthening all levels of the project management system.

Improving the national-level poverty monitoring capacity and monitoring the physical progress and impact of the project.

The World Bank has so far lent US$247.5 million to fund the project, which involves a total investment of US$464 million.

Due to implementation of the project, Wei's county, which has been listed among the poorest counties by the central government, witnessed the number of people living under the poverty line decreasing from 265,000 in 1995 to 125,000 in 2001.

In Guangxi, the number of people living under the poverty line was reduced from 8 million in 1993 to 1.5 million in 2000.

The State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development Deputy Director Wang Guoliang said the project has opened up the development of poverty reduction through combining domestic poverty reduction institutions with international organizations.

Many of the approaches and methods in the Southwest China Poverty Reduction Project have found their position in national policy and strategy, he said.

"The Southwest Poverty Reduction Project is a great success," he said.

Project design, implementation and associated accomplishments have all fully reflected the human-oriented, scientific and comprehensive development strategy raised by the Chinese Government, Wang said.

World Bank Managing Director Jeffrey Goldstein said the project's success lies not only in enormous poverty reduction through economic growth, but also in developing a multi-sectoral approach for promoting the integrated progress of agricultural production, education, public health, labor mobility, environmental protection and community capacity-building.

Strong support from the Chinese Government and integration of appropriate practices with local conventions were also key reasons for the success of the project, Goldstein said.

The achievements and experience concerning poverty reduction in the program provide good examples for other countries, he said.

The Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Regional People's Government Vice-Chairman Sun Yu said regional and local governments in Guangxi have attached great importance to eliminating poverty by setting detailed goals and tasks for the new century.

The autonomous region will continue to introduce foreign funds, technology and expertise into the region's poverty reduction work and develop its economy, he said.

Goldstein said the World Bank would work even more closely in support of the Chinese Government's efforts to alleviate poverty in the coming years.

Statistics from the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development indicate that since China began to carry out large-scale, systematic poverty reduction in the 1980s, the number of people living under the poverty line in the country had dropped from 250 million in 1978 to 29 million by the end of 2003.

The Chinese Government has carried out a full-scale fight against poverty in an organized and planned manner over the past two decades, mobilizing all sectors of society for this purpose.

While increasing investment to improve production and living conditions in poverty-stricken areas, China has also paid more attention to ecological and environmental protection and to sustainable development.

At the same time, the Chinese Government has actively studied practices in the international fight against poverty and explored partnerships with international organizations in aiding the poor since the 1990s.

But for the Chinese Government, it still has a lot of hard work to do to enable people in poor areas to live a comfortable and well-off life, an official with the Ministry of Finance said.

Weak infrastructure, a fast-growing population, and poor natural conditions are all factors which are expected to impede future progress in raising living standards in the world's most populous countries, she said.

(China Daily March 24, 2004) 

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