Best Poverty Reduction Programs
In the global fight against poverty, there have been countless programs to effectively downsize this issue. Poverty reduction programs are an important part of the fight against poverty and because of this, countries should be able to cooperate and learn from one another. Thankfully, with the help of the U.N., the world has been making progress in terms of cooperating to implement good poverty reduction programs. In no particular order, these are the five countries with some of the best poverty reduction programs.

Five Countries with the Best Poverty Reduction Programs

1. China

For the Middle Kingdom, poverty reduction is a key contributing factor to its rapidly growing economy. China has helped reduce the global rate of poverty by over 70 percent, and according to the $1.90 poverty line, China has lifted a total of 850 million people out of poverty between 1981 and 2013. With this, the percentage of people living under $1.90 in China dropped from 88 percent to less than 2 percent in 32 years. China’s poverty reduction programs have also benefitted people on a global scale by setting up assistance funds for developing countries and providing thousands of opportunities and scholarships for people in developing countries to receive an education in China.

2. Brazil

Brazil has taken great steps in reducing poverty and income inequality. Brazil has implemented programs such as the Bolsa Familia Program (Family Grant Program) and Continuous Cash Benefit. Researchers have said that the Family Grant Program has greatly reduced income distribution and poverty, thanks to its efforts of ensuring that more children go to school. They have also said that beneficiaries of this program are less likely to repeat a school year. Meanwhile, the Continuous Cash Benefit involves an income transfer that targets the elderly and the disabled.

3. Canada

Canada has implemented poverty reduction programs such as the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the National Housing Strategy. The Guaranteed Income Supplement is a monthly benefit for low-income senior citizens. This program helped nearly 2 million people in 2017 alone. Meanwhile, the National Housing Strategy in an investment plan for affordable housing that intends to help the elderly, people fleeing from domestic violence and Indigenous people. With its poverty reduction programs in place, Canada reportedly hopes to cut poverty in half by 2030.

4. United States

Although the United States has a long way to go when it comes to battling poverty, it does still have its poverty reduction programs that have proven to be effective. According to the Los Angeles Times, programs such as Social Security, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps have all helped to reduce deep poverty. In particular, people consider the Earned Income Tax Credit to be helpful for families that earn roughly 150 percent of the poverty line, approximately $25,100 for a four-person family. Social Security could help reduce poverty among the elderly by 75 percent.

5. Denmark

Denmark has a social welfare system that provides benefits to the unemployed, the disabled and the elderly, among others. People in Denmark are generally in good health and have low infant mortality rates. Denmark also has public access to free education, with most of its adult population being literate.

It should be stressed that none of these countries are completely devoid of poverty, but they do provide some good examples of how governments can go about reducing this issue. With the help of organizations like the USAID, it is clear that this is an issue many take seriously.

Adam Abuelheiga
Photo: Flickr

Smoking in Developing Countries
Smoking rates among adults and children in developing countries have been increasing for years. In developed nations, such as the United States, people have implemented certain policies in order to increase taxes and therefore reduce tobacco consumption, successfully. Such policies have not yet enacted in areas of extreme poverty around the world. In fact, tobacco companies have responded by flooding low-income areas with reduced-priced cigarettes, tons of advertisements and an excessive number of liquor stores and smoke shops. It is time to have a conversation about smoking rates in developing countries and whether or not tobacco control policies are the best approach long-term, worldwide. Here are the top 6 facts about smoking in developing countries.

Top 6 Facts About Smoking in Developing Countries

  1. Smoking affects populations living in extreme poverty differently than it does those in wealthy areas. Stress is a harmful symptom of poverty and contributes to smoking rates in low-income areas. Oftentimes living in poverty also means living in an overcrowded, polluted area with high crime and violence rates and a serious lack of government or social support. Stress and smoking are rampant in these areas for a reason. It is also important to note that smoking wards off hunger signals to the brain which makes it useful for individuals to maintain their mental health of sorts if food is not an option.
  2. Smoking rates are much higher among men than women across the globe. While the relative statistics vary from country to country, smoking rates among women are very low in most parts of Africa and Asia but there is hardly any disparity in smoking rates between men and women in wealthy countries such as Denmark and Sweden. The pattern of high smoking rates among men remains prevalent worldwide. One can equally attribute this to two factors that go hand-in-hand: the oppression of women and the stress that men receive to provide with their families.
  3. The increase in smoking rates in developing countries also means an outstanding number of diseases and death. The good news is that countries have succeeded in reducing consumption by raising taxes on the product. Price, specifically in the form of higher taxes, seems to be one of the only successful options in terms of cessation. Legislation banning smoking in certain public spaces is one example of an effort that places a bandaid on the problem instead of addressing the root cause. There is no data that shows a direct correlation between non-smoking areas and quitting rates among tobacco users.
  4. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports an estimated 6 million deaths per year which one can attribute to smoking tobacco products. It also estimates that there will be about another 1 billion deaths by the end of this century. Eighty percent of these deaths land in low-income countries. The problem at hand is determining how this part of the cycle of poverty can change when it has been operating in favor of the upper class for so long.
  5. Within developing countries, tobacco ranks ninth as a risk factor for mortality in those with high mortality and only ranks third in those with low mortality. This means that there are still countries where other risk factors for disease and death are still more prominent than tobacco use, but that does not mean that tobacco is not a serious health concern all over the world. Of these developing countries, tobacco accounts for up to 16 percent of the burden of disease (measured in years).
  6. China has a higher smoking rate than the other four countries ranked highest for tobacco use combined. The government sells tobacco and accounts for nearly 10 percent of central government revenue. In China, over 50 percent of the men smoke, whereas this is only true for 2 percent of women. China’s latest Five-Year Plan (2011 – 2015) called for more smoke-free public spaces in an attempt to increase life expectancy. A pack of Marlboro cigarettes in Beijing goes for 22元, which is equivalent to $3. This is far cheaper than what developed countries charge with taxes. This continual enablement is a prime example of why smoking rates in developing countries are such a problem. While many people mistake China for a developed nation because it has the world’s second-largest economy and third-largest military, it is still a developing country.

In countries like China where smoking rates are booming and death tolls sailing, tobacco control policies may not be the best solution. While raising taxes to reduce consumption may seem like a simple concept, when applied to real communities, a huge percentage of people living in poverty with this addiction will either be spending more money on tobacco products or suffering from withdrawals. While it might be easy for many people to ignore the suffering of the other, in this case, a lower-class cigarette smoker, one cannot forget how the cycle of poverty and addiction and oppression has influenced their path in life.

Helen Schwie
Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in the Paracel Islands
The Paracel Islands is a group of more than 30 islands between the coastlines of Vietnam and China, also called Xisha Islands, the Hoang Sa Archipelago and West Sand Islands. The country is in the South China Sea and some have considered it a flashpoint for regional tensions in East and Southeast Asia. Along with the Spratly and Patras Islands, the maritime territory is “…at risk of becoming Asia’s Palestine…” said the outgoing Secretary-General of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. With this in mind, here are 10 facts about the living conditions in the Paracel Islands.

10 Facts About Living Conditions in the Paracel Islands

  1. Fishing grounds and potential oil and gas reserves surround the Paracel Islands. Although no one has done a reliable estimate on the area, many believe there is a significant hydrocarbon (the chief component in petroleum and natural gas) prize in the region. The mere suspicion of the potential value the islands may have had made China anxious about its occupation.
  2. According to international law, China has sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands by discovery and occupation of said islands. While China faced Japanese aggression in 1930, however, France, as the colonial power in Vietnam, occupied some of the islands upon the argument that those islands were Vietnamese historical territories.
  3. The Japanese invaded the Vietnamese islands as an act of aggression towards China. It was not until the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty and the 1952 Sino-Japanese Treaty when Japan renounced all rights to the Paracel Islands, as well as the Spratly Islands, Penghu and Taiwan to China. Because of this, the Paracel Islands are a huge source of international conflict. The People’s Republic of China has tried to keep the occupation of the islands, despite protests from the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Vietnam. In 2012, the People’s Republic of China declared a city named Sansha, located on Woody Island, one of the Paracel Islands, that administers several island groups. The People’s Republic of China is doing everything in its power to support its territorial claims.
  4. Although no one has calculated an exact number, the People’s Republic of China invests millions in the development of the Paracel Islands. More recently, Beijing revealed a $23.5 million contract for a coastguard ship to patrol the Paracel Islands. It has also made advancements in the living conditions on Woody Island.
  5. Woody Island is the most populated of the Paracel Islands with over 1,000 habitats and scattered Chinese garrisons on the surrounding islands. Most people living on the islands are soldiers, construction workers and fishermen. With the recent construction, China has built a school for the 40 children living on the island. It also has a hospital, a postal office, a supermarket and more.
  6. There are many concerns about the militarization of the South China Sea as reports of the presence of missiles on the islands, especially Woody Island, surge. China built a military installation on Woody Island with an airfield and artificial harbor. President Xi Jinping held a private two-day drill in the Paracel Islands as a show of strength in the South China Sea.
  7. There is a limited supply of fresh water on the islands. On most of the islands that China occupies, drinking water comes in barrels with other supplies from small boats, making it as scarce as fuel. Desalination plants have activated in the South China Sea but are not available to all. Many have had to improve their ability to sustain long periods of time without supplies, including drinking water.
  8. There are plans underway to open the Paracel Islands to tourism by granting visa-free travel. The travelers will be able to stay up to 30 days on the islands. For years, tourism was scarce in the islands due to international conflicts but construction has already begun for a tourist area. There is, however, a threat for allowing tourists onto the islands.
  9. One of the biggest sources of income for the habitats in the Paracel Islands are the surrounding fishing grounds. It represents a key part of the living conditions in the Paracel Islands. If tourism opens up in the area, fishing activities will greatly reduce. Another problem has risen against the fishing grounds: the degradation of coastal habitats. The degradation of coastal habitats has been mostly due to the military bases in construction. Luckily, the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme have partnered for the Implementation of the Regional Strategic Action Programme for the South China Sea. Along with rehabilitating the coastal habitats, one of its priority issues is the management failures with respect to the linkage between fish stock and critical habitats. The coastal reefs are a considerable part of the Paracel Islands because they also act as a defense.
  10. A major concern of the Paracel Islands is typhoon season. The islands experience a series of typhoons during the summer months. This natural disaster leads to instability in the islands and the reefs are a critical part in protecting the islands from major harm.

People have given little attention to the poverty the habitants of the Paracel Islands have been facing these past years. These 10 facts about the living conditions in the Paracel Islands should illuminate the subject so the country can improve over time.

– Andrea Viera
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Tech Initiatives for Chinese Farmers
Over 800 million or 57.7 percent of people in China are using the internet. As the urban middle class continues to thrive and spend more time online, the impoverished rural communities have been lagging behind. In 2019, Chinese farmers are starting to benefit from the growing interconnectivity of the digital world. Corporations, in conjunction with the Chinese government, have developed tech initiatives for Chinese farmers to trade, learn and profit over the internet. Soon enough, rural communities should be able to unite with the middle class through e-commerce.

The Happy Farmer WeChat App

Happy Farmer is a philanthropic take on the once-popular Facebook game, FarmVille. Players harvest and cultivate crops within the various agricultural regions of China. People can spend virtual profits from these crops on coupons for real-world produce. The social media app WeChat launched Happy Farmer to take advantage of the rapid spread of attitudes and ideas across a massive audience. This allows hundreds of millions of WeChat users to share links and create groups with friends to purchase produce together.

The creator of WeChat, Tencent, developed Happy Farmer alongside the Chinese Ministry of Finance. Together, they were able to make Happy Farmer a precisely-targeted, functioning, charitable and educational tool. The game is directly based on real-world regions and their products so users can learn what region each crop comes from. This should promote an appreciation for the resources that rural counties provide. Advertisements within the game capitalize on the vast audience and all profits will go to alleviating poverty within the countries Happy Farmer is based on.

Taobao Live

Many middle-class Chinese consumers love to shop while watching live-streamed promotions. Taobao Live is China’s largest live-streaming e-commerce service. As Taobao strives to make its app the standard method of e-commerce, it is expanding to markets that have been falling behind the times. Taobao is promoting the growth of 1,000 new live-stream hosts to connect impoverished Chinese farmers with the modern Chinese consumer.

As one of the tech initiatives for Chinese farmers, the Taobao Live app features agricultural live-streams for two hours every day. The entire 15th day of each month shows agricultural live-streams specifically. Taobao Live has already been successful in promoting e-commerce as there has been an 80 percent rise in sales on its platform from poverty-stricken counties in the past six months.

The A-Idol Initiative by Alibaba AI Labs

The A-Idol Initiative provides free training in labeling and curating data to impoverished people of rural areas. This data then goes toward developing artificial intelligence through machine learning.

Women with families in poverty are often the ones to move away from their rural homes in search of employment. In order to combat this issue, women can enroll in the A-Idol Initiative to work from home instead. The skills learned in this initiative are applicable to other jobs, so workers can have mobility and security within their field.

Through these three tech initiatives for Chinese farmers, farmers should have a path into the middle class of China. Cooperation between big businesses, small businesses and the Chinese government has proven to be a formidable strategy against poverty and a growing class gap.

– Nicholas Pirhalla
Photo: Flickr

Regional Inequality
China’s regional inequality has historically been an issue. It is common for developed countries to have regional wealth and income disparity between rural and urban areas. Enormous wealth inequality exists between rural and urban regions of China with 90 percent of all poverty being rural poverty.

The Current State of Regional Inequality in China

Along with China’s regional poverty, an educational disparity has widened within China. The government has supported and subsidized education in urban centers but neglected to invest in opportunities for rural education. Since the 1950s, rural attendance at the Universities of Tsinghua and Peking has declined from over 50 percent to less than 20 percent in 2005 despite the rural population making up the majority of China’s population at that time. The lack of educational opportunities in rural communities in China has fed into the downward spiral of stagnation for such regions, as an educated populace is a crucial asset for creating economic growth.

Previous Efforts to Combat Regional Inequality in China

Recently, the Chinese government has recognized the need to address the growing problem of China’s regional inequality and has enacted a series of relatively new but ambitious policies to tackle the crisis.

China proposed the first of these in 1999. The Great Western Development Strategy is a $1 trillion (Chinese Yuan) development plan that aims at investing in development and growth in the inland Western Regions of the country. The plan slowly began in the early 2000s with spending on infrastructure projects in the west.

One of the most major projects was the construction of the West-East gas pipeline which began in 2002 and ended in 2005. This was a very ambitious project that created numerous jobs and revenue for the west while also benefitting the east coast. Other energy initiatives focused largely on the creation of hydropower plants throughout the region. Other infrastructure projects have focused on transportation. The Qinghai-Tibet Railway and the Southern Xinjiang Railway finished in the mid-2000s as a part of the strategy. These new railways employed many people and improved transportation substantially in their respective regions.

The Great Western Development Strategy also hopes to entice foreign investments in the region. The primary strategies for this objective are environmental conservation and improvement in educational opportunities. The plan has waived tuition fees for compulsory education in west China in hopes of improving the overall education of its citizens. Huge ecological conservation policies, such as Returning Grazing Land to Grassland seek to convert vast swaths of farmland into natural grasslands, as well as protect and expand forestry.

Recent Efforts to Combat Regional Inequality in China

The Northeast Revitalization Plan aims to rebuild traditional industries in the northeast, but with added economic and environmental regulations. The plan has also abolished taxes on agricultural workers and farmers, hoping this policy will be favorable towards the regions declining agricultural industry.

The new proposal, the Rise of Central China Plan, focusses on improving China’s agricultural heartland. Many often refer to Central China as “China’s Breadbasket.” The region has experienced only a fraction of the growth that coastal regions have undergone. As of 2002, the region’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was only 75 percent the national average. The Rise of Central China Plan will promote investment in advancements in agricultural techniques and technology with the hopes of increasing farming efficiency and creating larger yields in the region.

This is especially important for China as the issue of food security has risen for the highly populated nation. The Rise of Central China Plan also focuses on the development of transportation infrastructure in central China. A huge reason for central China’s economic stagnation has been lack of sufficient transportation, which has stifled its growth despite the region’s abundance of natural resources such as coal and its massive population.

Regional inequality in China has deep roots in past policies. The rural-urban divide has prompted a wave of bold new reforms aimed at combatting rural poverty and though the effort has just begun, these programs are showing promising results.

Karl Haider
Photo: Flickr

Child Labor in ChinaChina has made huge strides in becoming one of the largest economic and cultural hubs of the world over the past several years. However, child labor is one of the biggest contributors and problems of the Chinese economy. The following are the top 10 facts about child labor in China.

Top 10 Facts About Child Labor in China

  1. Child labor is a growing concern. About 7.74 percent of children between the ages of 10-15 are laborers although the legal working age in China is 16.
  2. There is a positive correlation between child labor and school drop out rates. One study found that on average, a child who works 6.75 hours a day has 6.42 fewer hours to study. While about 90 percent of underage workers attend school, many of them will eventually drop out.
  3. China’s less developed regions have more prevalent rates of child labor. For example, the Northwest and Qinghai-Tibetan regions (which make up the Western part of the country) are the least developed and have the highest rates of child labor. While in the more advanced Eastern and Central regions it is less of a problem.
  4. China’s incredibly competitive economy makes companies take any opportunity they can to get a leg up over their competitors, even illegally. For instance, factors such as worker shortages, high inflation and a rising currency reduce profit margins, resulting in underage labor. The Chinese government has acknowledged that child labor is a problem that is at the heart of its export economy.
  5. The Chinese government is working to stop child labor. In 2008 authorities in China’s southern province of Guangdong (near Hong Kong) broke up a massive child labor ring. The resulting arrests broke up a child labor apparatus in one of China’s biggest manufacturing cities. As a result, more than 100 children were freed.
  6. Many of these children are from poor families and are often between the ages of 13 through 15. Employment agencies will either trick or kidnap them and send them to work in any part of the country for up to 300 hours a month.
  7. China has signed many laws into effect to prevent child labor. These include international treaties like the U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the International Labor Organization’s Minimum Age Convention. The Chinese government is also trying to solve the problem at a national level. For example, regulations and provisions aiming at child labor include the Chinese Labour Law, the Law on the Protection of Women’s Rights and Interests, the Law on the Protection of Minors, Regulations on the Prohibition of Child Labour and the Notice on the Prohibition of Child Labor.
  8. Quantities of migrant labor have caused increases in the exploitation of child labor in China. There is a very clear link between the lack of education for migrant workers and the rise of underage workers in urban areas.
  9. Child labor in China is minimal in comparison to other industrialized nations. China’s protective laws and heightened importance of education have helped reduce child labor. More families recognize the value of education, leading to adherence to labor law in more parts of the country.
  10. Several solutions to China’s labor problem have been proposed. These include new economic policies that would reduce poverty in rural areas. Empowering poor, rural families is critical to eliminating child labor. The formation of independent trade unions would give more power to the workers and protect their rights. As a result, reducing child labor. Finally, a greater effort by Chinese authorities is crucial. Child labor will continue to be a problem if enforcement of laws is not kept to.

– Henry Burkert

Best Ways to Reduce Global Poverty

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank’s partnership established the Global Poverty Reduction and Inclusive Growth Portal (GPIG) on May 6, 2016. The portal specializes in “policy research, data analysis, country profiles and news on poverty reduction and inclusive growth.” It does this through online and offline events that aim for the increase of international cooperation in collaboration with China’s International Poverty Reduction Center (PRC). This article demonstrates the best ways to reduce global poverty according to GPIG.

The GPIG Portal

GPIG’s area of studies falls under the aim of successfully achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Specifically, SDG1 aims for the elimination of poverty, SDG2 aims for zero hunger, SDG10 aims for reduced inequalities and SDG17 aims for partnerships in achieving these goals. Along with the SDGs, GPIG’s ultimate goal is to support China’s efforts to end poverty by 2020. It would do so through its exhaustive research and analysis on ways to reduce poverty.

The Portal emphasizes the importance of international exchange and cooperation to reduce poverty as well as the need for aid towards China’s efforts to achieve the aimed reduction. GPIG supports the idea of using the Outline for Development-Oriented Poverty Reduction for China’s Rural Areas (2011-2020) as a guideline for international cooperation.

The document focuses on supporting the reduction of domestic poverty by introducing international resources, spreading China’s poverty reduction methods and promoting relations between China and other countries to strengthen the “experience-sharing” in poverty reduction. Within this document, GPIG recommends focusing on applying newer innovations on such mechanisms to expand the platform and better enhance economic and social development.

How should we reduce global poverty?

The best ways to reduce global poverty, according to GPIG, involve the inclusion of the whole society. GPIG believes poverty reduction methods are ineffective if the entire society does not participate. Inclusion of the whole society brings several advantages such as mobilizing strengths to reduce poverty. It also diversifies poverty reduction and its development strategies by combining the efforts of different parties such as domestic offices, government departments, private businesses and NGOs. More importantly, it ensures the sustainability of the poverty reduction achieved since it seems to be the fastest and most consistent method.

GPIG suggests developing projects that create an encouraging environment that keeps the focus of the government’s social organization on poverty reduction. To achieve the most effective project on reduction, GPIG suggests research and interviews on the PRC and on international experiences in social organization’s service contracting, PRC’s roles and motivations in poverty reduction and previous ways the social organization has achieved poverty reduction. Finally, GPIG suggests using such analysis to develop effective and efficient recommendations that focus on expanding the social organization to involve a national rural poverty reduction program.

More about GPIG

GPIG research methods and recommendations are co-managed by the International Poverty Reduction Center in China and the China Internet Information Center. To ensure its best possible functioning and the provision of the most effective recommendations for poverty reduction, UNDP also contributed to the Portal’s establishment along with WB and ADB. The three parties allowed the creation of a clear mission: to create an international platform that will provide the best ways to reduce global poverty by focusing on areas such as research, exchange, training and cooperation.

– Njoud Mamoun Mazhar Mashouka
Photo: Flickr

Five Facts About China’s Poverty Alleviation ProgramChina has contributed to more than 70 percent of poverty reduced globally, making it one of the countries with most people lifted out of poverty in the past four decades. China has also recently become one of the leading nations in poverty reduction efforts by implementing a poverty alleviation program. Here are five facts about China’s poverty alleviation program.

Five Facts About China’s Poverty Alleviation Program

  1. Main Goals: China’s main goals for this program are to address issues such as food security and clothing, compulsory education, basic medical care and housing. It wants to solve these issues by 2020. Additionally, by 2020 it wants to have a zero percent poverty rate in rural areas. Furthermore, the government wants to increase the income growth rate for farmers while also solving the regional poverty problem.
  2. Implementation of the Program: In order to achieve its goals, the government has focused on developing the economy through local industries, combating corruption within the poverty alleviation efforts and making changes to the education and healthcare systems as well. The Chinese government has registered the poor population in order to target the specific regions that need help the most while also tracking the progress being made. By targeting specific regions and having the entire poor population registered, the Chinese government can provide assistance to certain households or individuals. There are five parts of the poverty alleviation program which are being implemented to raise more people out of poverty and those are industrial development, relocation, eco-compensation, education and social security.
  3. Progress being made thus far:  As of 2019, more than “700 million people have been lifted out of poverty” according to the country’s national poverty line of $1.10 a day, which is more than 70 percent of the world’s poverty reduction efforts. When using the poverty line of $1.90 a day more than 850 million people have been lifted out of poverty between the years of 1981 and 2013. In 2016, more than 775,000 officials were sent out to different rural areas within the country in order to further development and aid the poor-stricken people living in the less-developed parts of China. This has proven successful given that, after this tactic was employed, the population living in rural areas that were still affected by poverty dropped to 30.46 million people. Additionally, the poverty incidence was also reduced to 3.1 percent. Although great progress has been made far ahead of the U.N.’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, China must still raise an additional 10 million people out of poverty in order to reach its 2020 goals of zero percent poverty.
  4. Citizens’ living conditions: China has worked closely with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to improve its citizens’ living conditions. It has done this by providing a better social security and welfare program which covers unemployment, pension, medical care, employment injury and maternity for urban employees. Additionally, this program includes what is known as the “Dibao,” the minimum living guarantee program, which ensures that even the poorest residents in either urban or rural areas would be supported by the government.
  5. Global impact: China’s poverty alleviation program is not only a domestic policy but also an international policy. It has benefitted many developing countries around the world. The Chinese government has provided about 400 billion yuan ($59 billion) in aid, which has benefitted 166 countries and international organizations. Additionally, more than 600,000 aid workers were sent overseas to contribute to the poverty-reduction efforts. China has also pledged $2 billion to the Assistance Fund for South-South Cooperation in order to support developing countries to reach the U.N.’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

As a result of China’s poverty alleviation program, people countrywide are overcoming the challenges of poverty. Not only is the percentage of poverty globally declining because of China’s efforts but people are also thriving. China is the only country worldwide to have improved its citizens’ living conditions to such an extent in such a short period of time.

Laura Rogers
Photo: Flickr

severe smog
China has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. With an annual GDP of over $12.34 trillion in 2017, China is the second-largest economy in the world behind the U.S., which has an annual 2017 GDP at over $19 trillion. While China’s economy may be growing rapidly, and possibly on the verge of passing the U.S. within the next decade or so, economic growth has come at a significant cost including severe smog.

China has relied extensively on fossil fuels for new manufacturing and power production facilities. The expansion of manufacturing facilities, combined with poor regulations, has led to serious smog problems in Chinese cities, especially in Beijing. Now, the Chinese government is acknowledging the negative health impacts of extreme smog production after ignoring it for years.

What is Smog?

Smog is severe air pollution that looks like a thick fog. The most common form of smog is photochemical smog. Photochemical smog forms when sunlight reacts with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the atmosphere. Nitrous oxides commonly release into the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels and factory emissions. VOCs commonly release into the atmosphere by paints and cleaning products. The end product of this chemical reaction creates a thick, brownish fog that can be unhealthy for humans, plants and animals.

Background Behind Beijing Smog

Coal-burning facilities are the number one culprit behind Beijing’s severe smog. Since China opened up to the world for trade in the 1970s, the nation has become a manufacturing-based economy. This is because Chinese workers receive little pay to manufacture products compared to what companies would have to pay in other countries. On top of that, Chinese products tend to be much cheaper to produce.

Beijing has become a major example of poor air quality due to the significant increase of coal-burning facilities. It also has a large number of vehicles on roadways along with unique topography.

Negative Health Impacts of Smog

Besides severe smog being unaesthetic and producing a thick, brown fog, it also has serious health impacts for humans, plants and animals. Beijing’s smog can cause short-term health problems such as heart attacks, asthma attacks and bronchitis. Thick smog can even lead to increased traffic accidents from poor visibility. Over the long-term, smog contributes to serious conditions such as respiratory failure and even cancer. To make things even worse, nearly one million Chinese residents died in 2012 because of smog-related diseases, the most out of any country in the world.

Smog also disproportionally impacts poorer residents because unhealthy air quality conditions are typically worse in poorer communities. Poorer residents also have a harder time accessing high-quality health care, which makes it difficult to receive adequate medical treatment for smog-related health issues.

“These pollutants are understood to affect human health in several ways, but most importantly they have been observed to cause people to die prematurely,” said Jason West, a professor for the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at UNC-Chapel Hill. “When we breathe, pollutants in the air can react with our airways and the surfaces of our lungs, and some pollutants like PM2.5 can enter the bloodstream and circulate throughout the body.”

Epidemiological studies have shown that people who live in places with high air pollution tend to die earlier than people who live in places with cleaner air, affecting causes of death that include heart attack, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

How China is Alleviating Smog

Before China’s Academy for Environmental Planning pledged $277 billion to combat urban air pollution, smog conditions throughout Chinese cities were severe. There were concerns about the 2008 Summer Olympics, which were held in Beijing, over severe smog issues. In December 2016, Beijing had to close down schools and airports because of severe air quality problems.

Furthermore, most residents have to wear masks in efforts to reduce the amount of unhealthy particle matter being trapped in their lungs. However, since 2013, nearly four million homes in the northern parts of China have converted to natural gas, a cleaner alternative than burning coal.

The average amount of unhealthy air particles that can penetrate the lungs and cause health problems has fallen in urban areas. Between 2016 and 2017, the concentration of negative air particles fell to 43 micrograms per cubic meter, a 6 percent decrease but much higher than the World Health Organization’s maximum recommended concentration 25 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24 hour period. The Chinese government has also released a new Three-Year Action Plan in 2018. By 2020, the plan hopes to decrease sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides by 15 percent.

Chinese NGOs

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) throughout China are also helping to combat severe smog issues. Most of China’s NGOs such as the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV) are concerned with legal actions against smog polluters. CLAPV has helped over 10,000 people via the phone and has pursued over 100 legal cases.

With negative health consequences such as respiratory problems developing because of smog, many residents have long-term health problems. Therefore, NGOs provide outlets for helping Chinese citizens sue polluters for damages, which in the long run, helps to alleviate severe smog issues.

Chinese smog is certainly a problem, and cities such as Beijing and Hong Kong feel the effects. Although smog may be a problem, there are solutions that will greatly reduce its negative health consequences. American companies such as Apple are investing millions of dollars in renewable energy projects in China, which reduces fossil fuel consumption, leading to reduced smog. The Chinese government’s Three-Year Action Plan shows promise, and the U.N. has already found that unhealthy particle matter has decreased throughout Chinese cities, although there is still work to do.

– Kyle Arendas
Photo: Flickr

wealth in inequality in china
It is a well-known fact that China is one of Asia’s -and the world’s- wealthiest nations. In the past two decades, China has made strides in eliminating poverty by reducing 60 percent of the population living in extreme poverty in 1990 to 10 percent in 2010. However, using the Gini coefficient, an inequality measurement that ranges from 0-1, where 0 means complete economic equality and 1 means the richest person has all the income, wealth inequality in China verges on 0 .5, with 0.4 being regarded as the international warning level of dangerous inequality.

Unrealistic Precedents

The rising average income of 21,586.95 yuan or about $3,142.11 is not as realistic, however. The median income for China is 18,371.34 yuan or about $2,674.06. The downsizing of poverty and growing economy has not impacted all parts of China equally. There is still a large amount of wealth inequality in China. Depending on the region and type of economy, certain areas make more than others. According to 2015 data, Shanghai and Beijing, both very urban areas, make almost 50,000 yuan each, while the poorer, rural areas like Xizang, Gansu, and Guizhou make less than 40,000 yuan combined.

When data like living standards and housing prices are compared by province, there is a stark disparity between the economic conditions of rural and urban areas. Urban areas tend to make much more money than their rural counterparts. Along with this, despite rapid urbanization, 50.3 percent of China’s population, almost half a billion, is rural.

The Role of Education and Finance

One of the underlying causes of wealth inequality in China is the lack of education. Many rural areas lack access to schools and higher education, so although there is a large amount of higher-level jobs available, many Chinese cannot lift themselves up academically in order to access these jobs successfully. Because of this, rural Chinese are more likely to have lower-paying jobs or be self-employed in agricultural jobs. Thus, they will not make as much money.

Another cause of wealth inequality in China is that food costs are more. The Engel coefficient, which works the same as the Gini coefficient but measures food costs, is lower for urban areas than rural areas, even though urban areas have higher gross incomes. Housing is also less expensive in urban areas, leading to a higher surplus of disposable income for already-wealthy urban inhabitants.

According to China’s banking regulator, at least 50 counties in Tibet, Yunnan, and Sichuan are unbanked, which means they even lack access to banks and financial services. Rural Chinese lack a lot of other basic resources like cars and clean water as well.

Hope for the Future

While it may seem like not much is being done to help the rural poor, some policies are being put in place by China to address the issue. In 2013 China started its “35 Point Plan” also known as the Income Distribution Plan. It has goals to increase the minimum wage, spend more on public education and affordable housing, and provide overall economic security. In 2006, the Chinese government also abolished the agricultural tax and prohibited local governments from collecting fees. Social welfare policies and taxation reform, along with policies to improve the equality of education combined have slowly but steadily decreased the Gini coefficient to below 0.5 from 2008, which was its all-time high.

Nadine Argott-Northam
Photo: Media-Public