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    » 12/19/2005, 00.00

    CHINA

    Rural poverty threatens China's social stability, says UN report



    Rural-urban divide in China is wider than in major capitalist nations. Tax system, health care, education and migrant labour management must be reformed in earnest before a "social schism" is created.

    Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China's wealth divide between urban and rural communities is among the highest in the world, according to the China's Human Development Report 2005, a study released by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on December 16, which was prepared with the support of the central government's Development Research Centre.

    Since 1980 China has succeeded in lifting 250 million people out of poverty, but in the same period the urban-rural income divide doubled.

    In 2002, the richest 10 per cent of the population enjoyed 41 per cent of China's wealth, making Chinese income inequality markedly higher than that of the avowedly capitalist US.

    A person living in a Chinese city earned on average US$ 1,000 a year—compared to just over US$ 300 in the countryside—and could expect to live over 5 years longer than a farmer.

    "The gap in incomes has opened up within the space of one generation," the report noted. "If resolute measures are not taken now and the chance to manage the problem is lost, poverty will be passed from generation to generation, creating a social schism that will be hard to eliminate."

    Forced land seizures, which leave many farmers with nothing to live on, are some of the causes of poverty. And inequalities are one of the triggers of popular protest in the countryside. They breed a sense of injustice which unemployment and corruption aggravate.

    "[C]oncrete action should be taken immediately to help those at the bottom of the economic and social ladder," said Li Shi, lead author of the report.

    Spending in health care and education must increase and the government must reform the tax system to transfer resources to poor areas.

    People must have equal opportunities in employment, which will require a reform to the household registration system (hukou) to ensure equal rights to workers migrating to the cities.

    This is a critical step to improve labour rights, particularly for the 150 million migrant workers, as well as guarantee them access to social assistance and social services like education.

    The study calls for additional reforms to encourage private businesses in areas hitherto dominated by state corporations so that laid-off public sector workers can find employment.

    Investing in basic health services for the rural poor is another important target.

    A farmer living in Guizhou or Yunnan can expect to live until the age of 65 while an individual in Hainan or Jiangsu can live to 74.

    Only 15 per cent of rural residents had medical insurance in 2004, whilst half of urban population benefited from full insurance.

    The government has responded by enabling over 150 million farmers to take part in a pilot cooperative medical system in rural areas that should guarantee basic medical insurance for all. This new cooperative medical is funded with financial aid from central and local budgets and voluntary funds raised by the farmers themselves.

    Another area ready for reform is education. In Tibet only half of the population can read and write compared to 97 per cent in cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin.

    Less than 1.5 per cent of Tibetan children go to junior high whilst more than 60 per cent of children in big cities pursue their secondary education.

    Illiteracy rate for women is more than double that of men.

    Spending must be increased in education and new legislation is needed to ensure everyone gets a primary education, especially in rural areas.

    The study points out that the central government plans to reform primary and middle schools, providing free textbooks to 24 million students from poor families. (PB)

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    See also

    10/01/2007 CHINA
    Rural-urban gap widening
    Top 10 per cent owns almost half of all private assets. Urban incomes growing fast; rural areas get poorer as a result of land expropriation and soaring medical costs.

    05/03/2009 CHINA
    In crisis-hit China the economy and social stability key goals for Premier Wen
    Optimism and caution are the main ingredients in the prime minister’s keynote address to the National People’s Congress. He pledges a series of measures to improve the economy during the mainland’s “most difficult year”. But no actual data about the real situation in the country are given. No new stimulus package is envisaged. Military spending is twice that of health care. Social unrest is up requiring a new early warning system.

    26/03/2010 CHINA
    Child mortality varies along urban-rural divide
    A study by The Lancet shows that children in rural areas under the age of five are “three to six times” more likely to die than in urban areas. The government injects fresh cash into health care, but in cities. About 70 per cent of farmers never see a doctor.

    26/08/2005 INDIA
    World Bank to loan India 9 billion dollars for rural development
    Suspicions abound that political and geo-strategic reasons are behind the aid.

    01/02/2005 CHINA
    Tensions in rural areas worry Beijing
    A government official calls turmoil in rural areas a threat "social stability". The government tries to lower taxes by reducing corruption.



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