China eyes infrastructure projects to relieve poverty, power economy

2015-10-14 22:30

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The land surrounding Qicun, a small township in north China's Hebei Province, used to be infertile and barren. Now, the once-bare hills shimmer with farms that require no water.

Thousands of solar panels laid by local workers, who joke they are "planting the sun", are offering a ray of hope for the region's impoverished farmers who see it as a ticket to prosperity.

Qicun remained one of the country's least developed regions for years, with villagers completely unaware of the huge untapped resource all around them -- 2,599 hours of sunshine a year.

It wasn't until state-owned China Three Gorges Corp., a new energy conglomerate, stepped in three years ago that they began to see the region's potential. The company rented land from residents and employed local workers to erect photovoltaic (PV) installations.

Li Jinru, a villager, said he was paid 120 yuan (nearly 20 U.S. dollars) per day during construction and 80 yuan for equipment maintenance after the PV power plant began operation.

Li is not the only one who benefitted from the project, which is already China's largest PV power station in mountainous areas with installed capacity totaling 99 megawatt. It created 7,000 jobs in the township and, more importantly, brought hope for prosperity to the remote area.

The project was only one small step in the government's plan to combat national poverty, currently in focus as the country prepares to celebrate its second National Poverty Relief Day on Saturday, also the date for the 23rd International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

Hong Tianyun, deputy director of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development of China, said poverty relief will remain a top priority for China in the next five years at a press conference on Monday.

Hong said the government will carry out more effective and targeted measures to enrich a total of 70.17 million people in the countryside living below the country's poverty line of 2,300 yuan, including launching education campaigns, encouraging financial support and building public platforms to mobilize more people to join the fight.

China's anti-poverty funds from central authorities maintained 18.1 percent of annual growth from 2011 to 2014. In 2015, China further increased the budget to 46.75 billion yuan.

Qicun's story illuminated a previously overlooked path for more effective poverty relief amid a lingering economic slowdown -- promoting major construction projects in rural areas which will improve living environment, boost employment and power regional growth.

As a result, the government has accelerated infrastructure, irrigation work and energy projects in poverty-stricken regions. Northwest China's Gansu Province is engaged in a 7.45-billion-yuan water diversion project that will channel clean water to more than 2.5 million people plagued by drought.

Jiao Yong, vice minister of water resources, said the government has planned 172 water conservation projects nationwide with 27 scheduled to break ground this year. "Those projects have a huge demand for labor, equipment and raw materials and will significantly drive upstream and downstream industries," Jiao said.

Transportation projects are another driver for poverty alleviation. China Railway Corporation, a state-owned railway operator and contractor, invested 265.13 billion yuan in railway construction during the first half of the year, up 12.7 percent from a year ago, with projects in central and western China prioritized.

China has made remarkable progress in poverty relief. It was the first developing country to meet the Millennium Development Goals target of reducing the population living in poverty by half ahead of the 2015 deadline.

In the past 15 years, China has lifted more than 600 million people out of poverty, accounting for about 70 percent of those brought out of poverty worldwide.

Beijing will host the Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum on Friday, during which around 300 representatives will gather to share their experience in combating poverty. President Xi Jinping will deliver a keynote speech at the forum.

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