By Bukola Ogunsina, Sichuan, China

Sichuan is considered the most under developed province in China. As poverty alleviation continues to be a work in progress, coupled with the region’s difficult terrain, Sichuan is determined to rise above its challenges. BUKOLA OGUNSINA writes…

Sichuan’s capital Chengdu, on first impression gives the idea that all is developed in what is considered rural China. However, development in all its counties continues to be a steadfast work in progress as the government tries to ensure that its indigenes rise above the poverty line.

Sichuan, according to several reports describing the province has been called, the miniature China, with China giving a bigger picture of what is happening in Sichuan. With a population of 91 million, ranking sixth for its economic volume, Sichuan lagged behind after China’s Reform and opening up policy, as coastal regions were prioritised for development.

A researcher at the department of Development and Reform Commission Mrs Kan Zelan said, “Preceding the country’s opening up, coastal areas were first to be developed, Sichuan was left behind. However with a rapid development rate, Sichuan has made progress in various sectors to include transportation.” China Railway No. 2 Engineering Group Co., Ltd (CREGC), with headquarters in Chengdu had received the Luban Prize recognised as the highest award in construction 26 times. Today, Sichuan has 9 railways, 17 express roads and one water way leading out of the Province, but still has a part of its populace living below the poverty line.

The Deputy Inspector, Provincial Poverty Alleviation and Immigration Bureau Mr Zhang Haipeng underlined that the poor had to be assisted out of poverty. “At the end of 2013, those ranked below poverty line in Sichuan were about 6.25 million. We have 14 districts which can be counted as poverty areas. There are 88 poverty counties in Sichuan and altogether 120,000 poor villages nationwide,” he said, adding that in Sichuan alone there were 11,000 poor villages with great efforts being made to help alleviate poverty. He also revealed that by the end of 2016, people below poverty line reduced to 2.2 million and poverty rate to 4.3 per cent.

On ways to tackle the problem, Zhang disclosed, “First job is to identify the poor and reasons why they are poor and then make precise plans to assist getting them out of poverty.”

“The policies we are implementing are standards used nationwide. For those who are among these 6.25 million people under poverty line, we know their names, where they live, we have put each of them on record. For example this information is relevant to how many are in a family, why they are poor and how we are going to help them. All these data are collected and put in a store called the ‘Big Data Centre,’” he said.

A practical example is Qiudi village, Guergou Town, a Jiarong Tibetan village, northwest of Lixian County, Sichuan. Reports from the government revealed that among eight poor households with 34 people in total, two people from one household were lifted out of poverty in 2015. And in 2016, seven people from one household were removed from poverty. This year, 2017, the village intends to assist 6 households with 26 members to overcome poverty.

“For every household in every village, county, province, we have put them on file. Each person with an individual file. This job has taken us more than two years. We can call it a very precise and elaborately done filing system, which has laid a solid foundation for our works on poverty alleviation,” Zhang said, adding that by 2020, the government was going to solve the task of housing the poor and helping them migrate out of the poor areas as some plots of the land cannot provide sustenance for families in order to assist them with a better livelihood that will remove them from poverty. Mrs Kan pointed out that Sichuan, “Is surrounded by hills while two third of the land is not good for agriculture…there was much focus on agricultural development.”

The government also looks at areas such as infrastructural intervention in the poverty stricken areas. “In 2015 we made investments and constructed roads of about 50,000 KM connecting these villages. We have also helped the power supply system. We have completed broad band project in villages, and except for those in Tibet, we have every poor villages and counties covered by the cables,” Zhang said.

He also noted that the government made sure each county has its development plan and was also helping the impoverished enhance their skills and find employment.  “We believe that for each household, if there’s at least one person capable of working, it will help the family get out of poverty.”

The government has also made it a point to focus on investing in education and the health. Making sure hospitals in affected counties meet national standards. Already 90 percent of the hospitals are said to have met such standards. Again, living subsidies are assured for 1.25 million students who get accommodation in schools, while nine years education has been made mandatory for minority ethnic people.

After a year of assessment by the Chinese government, it was noted that sickness and disease can be a reason people become poor again and hence the focus on medical health. Zhang pointed out that the goal is to make sure the impoverished will never be poor again. For those incapable of work or disabled, basic support and subsidies for livelihood is provided, and rich municipalities have been contacted for support in alleviating poverty, Zhang stressed.

“In 2017 we have new plans and new targets to help more than 60 counties to get out of poverty and assist more than 5 million people not to become impoverished again.

According to the government’s reports, in 2016, Sichuan’s GDP surpassed 3.2 trillion Yuan, however to date, 2.72 million are still living below the poverty line.