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Asia

Promoting sustainable development in Sichuan province

According to the World Bank, some 600 million Chinese have been pulled out of absolute poverty in the past 25 years. But activists say living conditions will only really be improved if people have a say in their future.

A destroyed temple in Sichuan two years after the earthquake

A destroyed temple in Sichuan two years after the earthquake

Two years after the devastating earthquake shook the western Chinese province of Sichuan, the streets are still piled up with wood and rubble. Wang Wei* runs a private research institute that is specialized in sustainable development.

At least 68,000 people were killed when an earthquake hit Sichuan May 13 2008

At least 68,000 people were killed when an earthquake hit Sichuan May 13 2008

Although Wang admits that the state has been effective in combating poverty, he says that there has to be more participation from the people. His idea is to set up microcredit for rural communities so that "we can reach many goals at the same time – starting with the fight against poverty. The loans and payments support local economic activity. The government accepts this. Then the community can develop because it has new skills."

Wang has a pilot project in a small village where the locals have taken out a loan to plant bamboo. They have created a small cooperative and taken courses so that they can increase their income by a fifth over the next few years.

"We’ve come a long way," Mr Li, the proud community leader says. "The cadres are respecting us more and more and giving us more support. They come from other areas to learn from us. We’re becoming better known. This has a positive effect. More and more people who are interested are coming to visit us. The economy is developing on its own."

Villagers not convinced by government plans

Wang hopes to transpose his ideas to another village a few kilometers away, where the inhabitants are not entirely convinced by government plans to relocate them. Mrs Zhu, who lost her home to the earthquake, now lives in a government-built house, which has running water and an inside toilet.

New government-built houses to replace those destroyed in 2008

New government-built houses to replace those destroyed in 2008

But she is worried about the future: "I don’t know what life will be like here later. We have to pay for everything here. Every month, we have to pay for electricity and water and gas. It’s all going to be unitized later. Who knows what’s going to come?"

Although the old houses were drafty and not entirely rainproof, at least the inhabitants could keep their animals in them, she adds. But now the farmers have to walk for over an hour to reach their fields. The authorities want the relocated young people to work in the local factories, however some refuse to change their lifestyles.

Taking the future into their own hands

Although many of the farmers in the village are skeptical of collective organizations, since they remember the forced collectivization of the Mao era that triggered a famine, Wang manages to convince them that small cooperatives can help them take decisions that are of benefit to the community as a whole.

Some farmers have put their hopes in new technologies and seeds

Some farmers have put their hopes in new technologies and seeds

He promises them that they will have the final say and will not be forced to plant anything they do not want to.

The farmers seem happy to give it a try and take the future into their own hands.

Author: Kristin Kupfer/act
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein

*All the names in this report have been changed

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