Home for Eri Shujin's five-member family is just a walled space serving as bedroom, cattle pen and kitchen in one. Their only bed consists of four piles of bricks with a wooden board on top. The entire space smells of hay and dung. A huge pan sits on three bricks and firewood is lit underneath to prepare the family's meals.
For about 330 days of the year, potatoes are their only food. They have rice three times a month, when the only market accessible from their village in the mountains of southwest China's Sichuan Province opens. Meat is a luxury, available only on three major holidays spread through the year.
Eri Shujin has three children but only the oldest, a 14-year-old boy, attends school. Though tuition is free, food and travel costs remain a burden. At 45, Eri Shujin has lost the sight in his left eye. He was aware of deteriorating vision three years ago, but could not afford to see a doctor.
His family is just one of many that are grappling with abject poverty in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan, home to nearly five million people. They are among 70.17 million poverty-stricken people in China's countryside, largely in the underdeveloped western and central areas. They make up about 7.2 percent of the country's rural population, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
While the Chinese describe abject poverty as "living in a home with only four bare walls", Lan Jinhua's ramshackle home in Libo county of southwest China's Guizhou Province does not even have a decent wall. For decades, Lan has huddled with his mother in a hut built of tree branches and pieces of bamboo, cemented with cattle dung. When it rains heavily and the hut floods, Lan and his mother have to move into his brother's home, where conditions are slightly better, and everyone sleeps on the floor.
In many mountain villages of Guizhou, prolonged drought turns cropland grainless and villagers live on 15 kg of government relief grain a month. Most families slaughter a pig for a New Year feast and keep the fat as cooking oil for the rest of the year.
Despite the rapid economic growth of the last two decades, poverty remains a tough issue in China. Almost like a cancer, poverty impacts every aspect of life, particularly health and education. In Yongshun County of central China's Hunan Province, many remote mountain villages have little access to medical services. In Yuyang Village, women still die during childbirth as they often have to wait for days for the nearest doctor to arrive. Village doctors hike day in day out on the craggy mountain paths to deliver medical service, but in the primitive mountains with no roads or vehicles, they often arrive too late. The training of 26,000 medical workers for the rural areas every year is a positive move in.
In the poorest villages of Guizhou Province, about 90 percent of the villagers are illiterate. Teenage students often quit school to find jobs in faraway cities. A typical village school has 50 first-graders, but less than 10 fifth-graders. Few students go on to middle school.
China lifted more than 700 million people out of poverty from 1978 to 2014, becoming the first country to meet the United Nations' target of halving the poor population.
Though the government's poverty relief fund has nearly doubled in four years, the effect is far below expectation: only 12.32 million people emerged from poverty last year, compared with 43.29 million in 2011.
One of the government's endeavors is a 20,000-yuan-per-household allowance to build new homes for poor people in western and central areas. "But those who can afford to have new homes built with the government allowance are clearly not the poorest," said Wang Zhengqi, an official in Guyuan City of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region. The allowance covers no more than half the price of a new home, so people in abject poverty often turn down the government's offer.
In 2013, some 234 million yuan of poverty relief funding was found to have been misappropriated in 19 counties of six provinces and autonomous regions, and 143 people were penalized. "It's important to improve management of the fund and enhance auditing, so as to avoid embezzlement and waste," said Wu Yuxiong, a relief official in Guangxi.
"Poverty may remain a tough issue for several generations," said Liu Yongfu, head of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development. "But we are confident that we'll win the war against poverty, and our dream for common prosperity will come true."
SOYMB has heard that one before !!