SEATTLE, Washington — China intended to end domestic poverty by 2020. The national campaign, which was launched by President Xi Jinping in 2015, sought to bring its population of 1.4 billion people out of extreme poverty by intervening locally and implementing national policies. By the end of 2019, China was optimistic that it could achieve its goal, but the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic paused the campaign. Now, extreme flooding threatens to thwart the campaign completely. Seeing the worst floodings in decades, China’s impoverished rural communities are disproportionally affected by the flood mitigation solutions. However, China’s goal of ending poverty has not been forgotten during this year of hardships, and authorities have amped up their efforts to prevent people from falling back into poverty.
The Social Inequalities Surrounding China’s Flood Mitigation
Since its 1998 flood disaster, China’s main strategy to fight annual flooding has been to discharge floodwaters to farmlands and rural communities to protect urban and industrial zones that produce more capital for the country. The central government has invested in water infrastructure surrounding cities for years, but rural communities in flood diversion zones have seen meager improvement and are dependent on less-funded local authorities for flood solutions.
This year, the 6,300 km long Yangtze River has been pushed far past warning levels and flood diversion zones have been utilized in an unprecedented manner. Nearly 63 million people have been affected by the floods and China’s rural community, which makes up about 42% of the population, has taken the brunt of it.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been evacuated and left with no choice but to leave behind their flooded homes and unsalvageable farm fields.
This is another hurdle for China’s goal of ending poverty as the country’s rural population is largely dependent upon agriculture and farming for their income. The natural disaster this year has flooded 13 million acres of cropland, completely drowned harvests and made it challenging for communities to overcome the loss of finances.
The government compensates citizens living in flood diversion areas suffering 40% to 70% agricultural loss. However, those who aren’t located in these zones may receive no compensation at all.
Natural disasters like 2020’s severe flooding starkly show the social inequalities China’s rural population faces. As such, China’s government is not just focusing on a temporary fix, rather, it is working toward a solution that will alleviate poverty in the long run.
China’s National Response
A top anti-poverty agency in China, the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, has responded to this natural disaster by outlining numerous projects aimed toward China’s goal of ending poverty. In the plans, the office urges local government authorities to help farmers replant crops in a timely manner, assist migrant workers in finding jobs in the affected regions and ensure safe hygienic practices to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
China has increased disaster relief funds for rural communities to facilitate these efforts. As of mid-July, the government has set aside 1.8 billion yuan ($258 million) to help relocate individuals to temporary settlements and, once the floodwaters subside, to aid in the reconstruction of homes. These funds will help rebuild the lives of rural communities by addressing immediate concerns like clean running water and future concerns by ensuring citizens have harvestable crops.
Food security is also a significant concern for rural communities who have lost their supply to floods. On top of the skyrocketing market prices resulting from billions of dollars of lost crops, China’s goal of ending poverty is dependent on rural communities’ food security and stable income. By tapping into its national reserves, the government has kept the price of rice, corn and soybeans level, which will ensure economic security and keep rural communities from further harm.
Additionally, special attention has been given to rural workers who have recently lost their jobs or were unable to salvage their crop fields for the year. By promoting cross-regional co-operation, Chinese authorities have assisted citizens who are close to falling back into poverty by finding them employment at factories, hospitals, schools and public facilities.
Meanwhile, the country’s banking and insurance regulator has increased lending and credit support for those affected by the floods. It has advised insurers to arrange financial resources that will help people improve their quality of life. Additionally, it urged banks to change their loan extension programs for those facing difficulties due to the floods.
Finding Permanent Solutions
Since 1958, 850 million people have been lifted out of poverty in China. In 2020, China’s goal of ending poverty faces increasing challenges. However, the central government is adamant about keeping up its poverty alleviating progress. Following the extreme flooding this year, the country’s relief efforts toward rural communities, who are most at risk of falling back into poverty, has been continuous and extensive. China’s local approach has addressed the individual needs of communities, providing them with specific attention from government officials.
With lots of work yet to be done in ending domestic poverty, this natural disaster has revealed key vulnerabilities and socio-economic inequalities that China needs to address to maintain its progress.
– Anastasia Clausen