China's President Xi Jinping has declared that the country will rid itself of "absolute poverty" by the end of 2020. With just a few years to go, Yunnan province has considerable work to do. As the most powerful politician South of the Clouds, Yunnan Party Secretary Chen Hao (陈豪) is ultimately in charge and accountable for such endeavors. He recently gave a personal interview with People's Daily, in which he vaguely outlined what plans are now in motion.
The term absolute poverty is typically used to describe people living on less than US$1 a day, the equivalent of about 6.30 yuan. During his interview, Chen explained that 3.3 million people in Yunnan qualify for this lowest of all income groups. Raising them out of abject penury, admits Chen, is an "extremely tough" proposition.
The guiding principle to achieving Xi's vision, said Chen, is a nationwide policy officially translated into English as 'Two no worries and three guarantees' (两不愁, 三保障). The first pair refers to providing everyone with adequate food and clothing, while the latter three assure universal access to a minimum of nine years of education for all children, access to basic medical coverage for everyone, and safe housing for families.
While these concepts are repeated as boilerplate by politicians across China these days, Chen did elucidate one major detail — that people living in "places unable to support proper habitation" will be relocated. This will involve new ways of government departmental cooperation "at all levels", he said, meaning village, county, prefectural and provincial officials should expect to be held accountable.
First the province must identify those families living in substandard housing, next assessing which homes can simply be repaired and which are no longer suitable for dwelling. What will happen to people currently occupying unfixable and "dangerous" homes remains unclear.
While government safety inspectors rush to identify shoddy housing, a slew of other strategies are in place. Creating "industrial" work with on-the-job training is high on the Party secretary's list, as are education and clean food and water programs. During his interview, Chen did not put a price tag on what eliminating poverty in Yunnan may be.
Vague policy pronouncements aside, according to government statistics Yunnan has decreased the number of people living in abject poverty dramatically over the past half-decade or more. In 2011, some 13 million people in the province were thought to be living on less that a dollar a day. Getting the last remaining 3.3 million into better situations may not therefore be impossible, but little time remains.
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