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Closer to making poverty history
2017-09-18, NICHOLAS ROSELLINI

Based on its efforts and achievements, China will have many successful stories to share as it moves one step closer to making poverty history. 

Between 2013 and last year, a total of 55.64 million people were lifted out of poverty in the country — an average of 13.91 million per year, resulting in a reduction of poverty incidence from 10.2 percent in 2012 to 4.5 percent last year. 

This is a big achievement in the past five years under the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

As the world has signed up for the UN-initiated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), there is an increasing need for other developing countries to learn from China regarding its poverty-reduction experiences.

There is a web of interrelated factors that can help explain China’s achievement. Yet, it all boils down to one fundamental enabling element — effective governance for human development, along with strong leadership. 

There are at least three important lessons in this aspect.

First, China has adopted a phased approach to eradicate poverty. This means, as drivers of poverty evolve over time, due to changes in socioeconomic and environmental contexts, poverty-fighting governance mechanisms are adjusted accordingly to put the development context into perspective. 

The dynamic nature has been manifested in varied aspects of governance, including, for instance, how the poor are identified, how programs and instruments are designed, as well as how financial resources are managed and monitored.

Second, China has increasingly applied a broad-based poverty-alleviation approach, indicating a modality that consolidates efforts across multiple sectors and stakeholders. 

The targeted poverty-alleviation strategy — exemplified by five major categories of measures that touch upon education, social protection and industrial development among others — is a good case in point. 

At its core, the strategy recognizes the fact that poverty is a multidimensional problem. If implemented effectively, the poverty-alleviation strategies can contribute to job creation and provision of public services, all of which are essential to ensure inclusive growth and equal opportunities for all.

And third, China’s institutional design has allowed increasing flexibility for innovative bottom-up processes that are instrumental in providing tailor-made solutions. 

For instance, industrial development has progressed by leaps and bounds in many poor Chinese villages. 

Encouragingly, a great deal of this progress is due to local entrepreneurship, which is maximized through proper policies and guidance. 

This cannot be achieved without the right incentive mechanisms. In China’s context, the latter is formulated to encourage the poor to think and act positively, and to help them take initiatives and self-develop.

However, challenges still remain. Beyond 2020, once the “last batch” of the poor has been lifted out of poverty, new and diverse challenges will arise and China will need to adapt. 

Changing demographics, coupled with high levels of migration and uncertainties from the next wave of industrialization, will bring new challenges that China will have to mitigate.

This is where the UN system can play a vital supporting role. 

First, the UN can help with broad-based poverty alleviation through its efforts in localizing the SDGs for long-term impact. 

This entails integration of sectoral approaches at the local level, ensuring integration of various aspects of poverty and broader development, and convening of necessary partners and resources, for which the UN system is well built. 

It can also bring in various tools to help with needs assessment, financing and budget planning — all with an integrated view, aiming to realize impact investing that effectively links financing with positive development outcomes.

Second, to help ensure long-term impact, the UN can help monitor and assess poverty-alleviation efforts. For instance, to prevent people from falling back into poverty, real-time and real-place tracking is of significant use to improve precision in targeting the poor. 

On this note, the UN can assist China to experiment with innovative instruments, such as big data, to monitor poverty dynamics, which complements the traditional household surveys that feed the national database.

And last, the UN can continue to offer international perspectives and experiences for China, both now and beyond 2020, bringing in innovation, particularly at the local level. 

For example, through the Belt and Road Initiative — the China-led proposal to build a modern network that links the ancient Silk Road routes — which provides a promising channel to expedite knowledge exchange, the UN can help to share experience on best development and governance practices between China and others.

China is close to finishing the “last mile” of poverty reduction but, with further challenges ahead, the UN looks forward to supporting China to make poverty a thing of the past.

 

The author is UN resident coordinator & UNDP resident representative.

 

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