HONG KONG — ; The number of Chinese people living in extreme poverty, with annual incomes of less than U.S.$77, rose by 800,000 last year, the first officially recorded increase in 25 years of economic reforms, RFA's Mandarin service reports.
"Due to serious natural disasters, the number of poor in Henan, Anhui, Shanxi, and Heilongjiang provinces increased to more than 2 million in 2003, causing the increase of the national total poor population," official media quoted Liu Jian, director of China's State Council Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development, as saying.
In 2003, the number of inadequately fed and clothed poor was 29 million, or 3 percent of China's population, according to government figures.
In 1978, China had 250 million people who were inadequately fed and clothed — ; representing 30 percent of its total population, Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday.
The gap between the annual income of the poor and the national average income has widened in recent years from 1:2.45 in 1992 to 1:4.12 in 2003. The upper limit of the net income of China's poorest in 2003 was 637 yuan (U.S.$77) while the average annual income reached 2,622 yuan (U.S.$316) in the same year.
But Liu said that two million Chinese had been lifted out of poverty in 2001 and 2002.
"This year, China is facing new challenges in poverty reduction, among which, to increase farmers' income is of the most urgency," Liu said.
He said China would focus on improving the basic living and working conditions of poor areas, training poor people with professional skills, and increasing their incomes by developing local enterprises.
China's leaders have called for a new emphasis in economic policy in an attempt to narrow divisions between rich and poor, city and countryside. But social, economic, and regulatory factors underpinning uneven growth patterns look likely to intensify in the coming year.
Fundamental inequalities still divide the eastern coastal boomtowns from the rural hinterland, and the benefits of economic are still failing to trickle through to less well-developed regions.
China's inland rural provinces have seen worsening poverty among their populations in the past 20 years, together with mass migration of their labor force into the richer urban and coastal regions. #####