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Irrigation Project to Turn Barren Areas into Cultivated Farmland

More than 175,000 people have been lifted out of poverty thanks to a 3 billion yuan (US$364 million) irrigation project which is under construction in the southern areas of the Muslim-dominated Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in Northwest China.


The Yanghuang Poverty Alleviation Project, which started in 1998, focuses on turning drought-stricken areas into cultivated farm land by pumping water from the Yellow River.


An additional 500,000 local residents are expected to benefit from this project once it is completed in August next year, according to Xue Saiguang, the project's deputy engineer-general.


The plight of the southern areas of Ningxia, also known as Xihaigu, is nationally known. The mountainous areas are deemed by experts as "not suitable for human subsistence'' because of the lack of water and harsh natural environment, said Xue.


A total of 2.4 million people live in this area and half of them are Muslims, according to the region's government.


Thanks to the project, the two irrigation areas -- Hongsibao and Guhai -- have become new resettlement bases for residents moving out of mountainous areas.


Ma Jun, a 35-year-old Muslim now living in the Guangcai Village in the newly established Hongsibao Town, said his four-member family's income was about 5,000 yuan (US$600) last year.


As the father of two babies, Ma said the income mainly comes from planting corn, raising sheep and doing some part-time jobs in the town. Their income has been doubled since the family was resettled in the new village in 2000.


The annual per capita income of resettled residents is 934 yuan (US$113), according to Hua Zhimin, director of the Construction and Environmental Protection Bureau of Hongsibao Development Zone.


According to local standards, this sum of money allows local residents to obtain an adequate amount of food and clothing.


Ma said his family plans to plant more cash crops, such as liquorice and clover, to increase their income.


Hua said the overall planning of the irrigation areas has been mapped out, including constructing power-supply and telecommunication facilities to improve the lives of resettled people.


The Yanghuang Project has received valuable support from the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the nation's top political advisory body.


CPPCC Vice-Chairwoman Qian Zhengying, the former Minister of Water Resources, was moved by the poor situation of Xihaigu during a visit there.


With her expertise in water resources, she found that the root cause of poverty in the area was the lack of water.


Qian invited agricultural, forestry and water resources experts to investigate the situation there and offer proposals to the central government on building this huge irrigation project.


It took six years to complete all necessary preparatory work, with construction starting in August 1998.


(China Daily September 13, 2003)

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