By Wang Fang
In recent years, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region has taken comprehensive measures to tackle poverty. These efforts have yielded tangible benefits to people of all ethnic groups living in the autonomous region.
In late February, the Pamirs Plateau in southwestern Xinjiang was warming up. And the relocation community in Wuqia County of Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture was waking up from the long winter.
Situated along the western frontier, Wuqia County bids the final farewell to the last rays of the sun over China every day. The relocation community is only one kilometer from Turgat Port on the border with Kyrgyzstan.
“I never expected to live in such a nice apartment,” said Tursun Schagendike, a former Kirgiz nomadic herder. “We don’t have to worry about drinking water, electricity or heating or any of those things. Our lives are getting better and easier.”
The community was built in 2017 for the relocation of poverty-stricken herders living in the mountains 3,000 meters above sea level. With a down payment of 10,000 yuan (US$1,540) and a low-interest loan of 50,000 yuan (US$7,700), each family was assigned an 80-square-meter apartment and a shop front on the ground floor. With geographical advantages near the border, each relocated family can earn stable income by running a business in the shop front or leasing it to other businesses and finding employment at the port.
“Life in the big mountains was very difficult, especially during heavy snowfalls in winter and flash floods in summer,” reported Schagendike. Since moving here in June 2017, he has been quite happy with life in the new community, where he has easy access to public transportation and services such as medical care. He will turn 70 years old this year but looks much younger. His wrinkled face maintained a radiant glow.
Schagendike used to be Party secretary of his village and also served as a border guard. Due to his contributions to improving sheep breeding conditions and guarding the border, he was named a model worker of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in 1995. He displayed the wide variety of medals and badges he won over the years.
Gulnur Yusuf was living in a similar apartment upstairs. On the floor was a carpet that she personally knitted. On the wall was a handmade embroidery featuring Kirgiz nomadic culture.
“I’m working as a chef at a nearby police station where I earn a monthly salary of 2,000 yuan (US$310),” she said. “My husband is working as a border guard for a similar income. We are quite happy with our life and work here.”
The foreign journalists enjoyed the visit to the community. “I’m quite impressed with their personal experiences,” commented Rizki Akbar Hasan from Indonesia’s Liputan6.com. “Surviving in the mountains is very difficult. In this new community, everything has changed for the better. It’s nice to have an apartment with heating to offer comfort in winter.”
Due to its remote geographical location and hostile natural environment, Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture has a large poverty stricken population residing in inhospitable areas. Relocation has been an important measure for lifting them out of poverty. According to statistics, a total of 3,773 people in 797 families in the prefecture were relocated in 2018.
To lift people out of poverty in such areas, it is important to provide them with assistance while enhancing their capacity for independent development. In recent years, the Xinjiang government has attached great importance to promoting employment as an effective measure of targeted poverty alleviation. Small and micro industrial parks have been built in villages to provide job opportunities for local poverty stricken families.
“I’m working at the garment cooperative at the Wuqia Village Small and Micro Industrial Park for a monthly salary of 2,000 yuan (US$310),” revealed Khanzola Muhammad. “It is close to my home and provides a stable salary. I enjoy working there.”
Wuqia Village is about 10 kilometers from Atushi, the capital of Kizilsu Kirgiz Autonomous Prefecture. In 2015, the local government invested in the construction of a village industrial park consisting of five cooperatives specializing in garments, carpets, cotton quilts, embroidery and naan (a kind of flat bread popular in Xinjiang). A total of 85 poverty stricken families have become shareholders of the cooperatives, which pay annual dividends of 80,000 yuan (US$12,310). About 65 people from these families are working at the cooperatives.
The central business of the garment cooperative is production and sales of traditional ethnic clothing with capacity of 9,000 items per year. It employs 33 workers, 25 of whom are from poverty-stricken families.
At the naan cooperative, I was fascinated by the sweet smell in the air. All the workers were dressed in white chef uniforms as they rolled dough into pancakes, stamped them with patterns, and placed them on the inner wall of tandoors (clay ovens). This was genuine traditional naan baking technique in action. The cooperative has 18 tandoors with daily capacity of 3,000 to 4,000 pieces of naan, which are consumed by residents of the local town and Atushi. Workers there make a salary of 80 to 100 yuan (US$12-15) every day.
According to statistics, Xinjiang invested a total of 33.41 billion yuan (US$5.15 billion) in poverty alleviation in 2018 which lifted 537,000 people and 513 villages out of poverty, with the poverty rate dropping to 6.51 percent.
For the People
In recent years, Xinjiang has made great strides in improving the living standards of the people in both urban and rural areas.
As we drew close to No. 14 Village of Naizerbagh Town in Kashgar, we were attracted by rows of two-story houses flanking both sides of the road. The houses were local homes renovated in 2016 with government subsidies. The government subsidy was 28,500 yuan (US$4,380) for average families and 10,000 yuan (US$1,540) more for families in extreme poverty. Some villagers applied for low-interest loans.
“We used to live in thatched mud houses with leaky roofs,” illustrated Yasenkare Aili, deputy manager of the village interior decoration cooperative, who moved into the new house in 2017. “The new house is quake-proof and provides access to running water, electricity, heating and other amenities.”
In Naizerbagh Town, 1,561 families moved into their new houses just like Aili. The township mayor informed us that before the renovation project, most residents lived in shabby houses with poor infrastructure and environment. The renovation has greatly improved their living conditions to enable prosperous and content lives.
Alongside improvements in living conditions, villagers are also gaining stable income. “My wife and I earn an annual income of 40,000 to 50,000 yuan (US$6,150-7,690),” said Aili. He makes 3,000 yuan (US$460) per month at his job at the village cooperative. His wife is working at another village cooperative, earning 1,000 yuan (US$150) per month. Both of their children are enjoying the 15-year free compulsory education (the national average is nine years). At age 60, his mother is receiving a 120 yuan (US$18) monthly government subsidy for the elderly.
Aili’s family is also benefiting from preferential medical care policies. “Since 2016, we have had a free medical checkup every year,” noted Aili, “And 95 percent of the costs of medical care in the county hospital and village clinic can be reimbursed. We are feeling more satisfied and secure than ever before.”
In recent years, Xinjiang has invested more than 70 percent of its financial expenditures and assistance funds from eastern provinces and municipalities in improving the well-being of the people, which has benefited 20 million people of all ethnic groups throughout the autonomous region.