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Ending extreme poverty amid COVID-19 pandemic by Li Yunlong,June 08, 2020 Adjust font size:

The COVID-19 outbreak emerged in December 2019 and has been spreading across China and the world ever since. The Chinese government has taken extraordinary measures to contain the outbreak, and many cities and provinces have implemented level-I response systems that were designed for major public health emergencies.

The prevention and control measures that have been executed have achieved remarkable results, but they have had severe social and economic effects on China’s citizens. Poverty reduction work has been slowed down as a result of complications related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Some factories that were established for poverty alleviation purposes suspended their operations. Many impoverished people who returned to their hometowns for Spring Festival holiday have not been able to get back to work. Roads, villages, and communities were closed in some areas in order to  keep the virus from spreading, which has caused problems with logistics. Roadway and drinking water improvement projects have been delayed in some villages. Some financial institutions even suspended their services, which has affected the implementation of various poverty reduction projects.

Top-level design against poverty and the COVID-19 outbreak

The nation has made special efforts to win the battle against poverty on schedule while fighting the pandemic.

At a COVID-19 prevention meeting that was held by the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Chinaon Feb. 3, President Xi pointed out that winning the battles against poverty and COVID-19 are both major projects that deserve special emphasis and that the combination of rural revitalization strategies and pandemic prevention measures can act as an entry point for improving the public health system and living environment in the nation’s villages. He called on the country to overcome the impact of the outbreak in a subsequent meeting on Feb. 23 and stressed that poverty alleviation projects should continue to be implemented in order to achieve comprehensive poverty eradication by the end of the year as scheduled.

The State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development (LGOP) issued a statement that stresses the need to triumph in the battles against poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic as well. It states that areas that are experiencing few or no infections should make every effort to ensure that poverty reduction work is carried out in a practical and detailed manner and that changes should not be made to overall plans and goals.

The LGOP and the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission have jointly declared that the repayment period will be extended for people who have taken out poverty alleviation microloans and have experienced financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and that processes will be simplified, approval speeds will increase, and efficiency will improve regarding extension of repayment plans, loan renewal, and the issuance of new loans during the pandemic period.

The Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the LGOP jointly issued an announcement pertaining to poverty reduction via employment. It encourages key enterprises to prioritize the recruitment of eligible impoverished villagers and provide them with hiring bonuses. The document also mentions the importance of helping poverty-stricken people who are employed as migrant laborers returnto their workplaces in a safe and orderly manner if they are not currently at those locations and that groups of villagers should be transported directly from their hometowns to their workplaces whenever possible. The notice also notes that efforts should be made to make it possible for impoverished villagers to earn a living in the areas that they are from.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the LGOP have jointly called for in-depth analysis being conducted on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in impoverished areas and efforts being made to help areas with overstocked agricultural products sell them. The offices noted that since many impoverished areas are important sources of supply during the pandemic period, emergency marketing plans should be formulated, and connections between farmers and purchasers be strengthened.

The LGOP and the Ministry of Finance also jointly issued a notice requiring that preferential support is given to cities and counties that have been severely affected by the pandemic in order to ensure that they have sufficient poverty reduction funds, and that funds are adjusted and optimized in order to support poverty alleviation projects, boost employment for the impoverished, and ensure basic living standards.

A recent release issued by the LGOP notes that poverty alleviation teams in areas that have a high risk of infection should focus on pandemic prevention and control efforts, and that those working in regions experiencing low or nonexistent infection rates should help impoverished people fight poverty while implementing prevention measures.

Challenges ahead

China previously planned to end absolute poverty in the country by the end of the year and has remained committed to this project. Most of its citizens have escaped from absolute poverty, but many challenges still lie ahead.

Firstly, poverty reduction remains arduous in areas that suffer from extreme poverty. The most recent data indicate that nine of the nation’s provinces each have poverty-stricken populations of over 100,000 people, there are more than 50,000 impoverished residents in each of nine prefectures and prefecture-level cities, and 16 counties have a poverty incidence that is higher than 5 percent.

Secondly, existing poverty requires elaborate and intensive effort. The current standards for poor counties, villages and people to exit poverty will not be adjusted either downward or upward, in order to avoid the welfare trap or benefits cliffs respectively.

Lastly, pressure to provide and expand the social safety net is increasing. The rural subsistence allowance system is being improved so that everyone who is unable to work as a result of disability, illness, or old age will be able to receive payments, and it will be thoroughly integrated with traditional poverty alleviation programs that are primarily related to measures such as business creation and employment. Eligible citizens who have participated in the programs are being incorporated into rural subsistence allowance and social assistance systems in order to ensure that no one is overlooked.

Main tasks for 2020

China helped 11.09 million of its citizens escape from poverty in 2019. The government has formulated the following goals in order to help the remaining 5.51 million impoverished people in the country do so in 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic:

1. Poverty alleviation work is being supervised. The LGOP requires oversight in all counties that have an impoverished population of more than 10,000 people ora poverty incidence higher than5 percent and in every village with an impoverished population of more than1,000 people or a poverty incidence over 10 percent. It has also stipulated that all provinces report their poverty alleviation progress on a monthly basis.

2. Efforts are being made to spot shortcomings and areas that have been overlooked and to revise plans accordingly. Problems that have been identified should be addressed promptly, and people and regions that currently remain in poverty should be helped out of it as quickly as possible. Identification and rectification of issues should not be delayed or discontinued.

3. A long-term poverty alleviation system is being established. Surveys indicate that almost 2 million people who have escaped from poverty are at risk of falling back into it and that nearly 3 million marginalized people whose annual incomes are slightly above the poverty line are at risk of becoming impoverished. It is, therefore, important to monitor these groups and address difficulties that emerge.

4. Follow-up services related to helping the nearly 10 million citizens of the country who have moved to special relocation sites emerge from poverty are being upgraded, which can be more difficult than the creation of the relocation sites. Efforts are being made to enhance employment guidance, skills training, business development support, social integration services, community governance, and basic public services in order to help the people in this group improve their employment prospects and gain stability.

Author Li Yunlong is a professor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee (Chinese Academy of Governance).

The original article was published in Chinese and translated by Jin Ling.

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