Living in a brick house, drinking tap water and irrigating the land have long been Ma Dexue's dream.
The 35-year-old man of Hui ethnic group will be able to realize his dream this year thanks to the largest relocation project in the arid area of northwest China.
Another 206,000 people in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region will be resettled in irrigated areas and suburban areas of cities in the coming five years, bringing the relocated total to 576,000.
Central and regional governments will invest 2.842 billion yuan (US$406 million) in the next five years to move the people in 185 villages from six counties to 42 new settlements along the Yellow River.
Each farmer will get 0.16 acres land.
Drought is the main cause of poverty in central Ningxia as the area receives less than 200 mm of rainfall each year, and 40,000 people in the area cannot feed themselves.
"Harsh natural conditions, meager resources and over-population have made those areas the most unlivable places," said Li Wenming, head of Tongxin county government, located in the core of the arid areas.
The government has invested 710 million yuan in the past eight years in the county, but the farmers in the arid mountainous areas are still living in poverty.
"Poverty reduction programs cannot change their status quo. Relocation is the most effective way," Li said.
China began to relocate farmers in 1983, and more than 370,000 people in Ningxia have moved from their poor homelands and escaped poverty.
"Relocation gives me hope for a better life," said Ding Youfu, who was resettled in Hongsibao Area, a former artillery range, in 1999 from Shitangou town, Tongxin county.
Ding has bidden farewell to the days living on the government allowance. He currently has 1.3 acre land and harvest more than 6,000 kg grain a year.
The Hongsibao Area resettlement program began in 1995 when the 40-year-old former army shooting range, covering 55,300 hectares along the Yellow River, was opened up to 194,000 farmers from neighbouring Xihaigu.
As the farmers move to the irrigated areas, their former homes have been planted with trees and grass to improve the fragile vegetation there.
"There is great hope of ecology restoration in the arid areas without human activities destroying the land," said Zhu Weidong, a State Forestry Administration official.
(Xinhua News Agency May 7, 2008)