Individuals, not regions, need aid, says bank chief The mainland's anti-poverty efforts should be fine-tuned to focus on individual needs instead of geographical location, according to a senior international aid official. While the central government had reduced the number of poor people by providing assistance directly to local regions, Asian Development Bank vice-president Geert van der Linden said the growing income gap and urban poverty required more specialised efforts. 'China now faces a tougher task in helping the poor because poverty is no longer as general and widespread. To avoid spending money on the wrong people, China must target its funds more carefully,' Mr van der Linden said. The bank provided more than US$2.9 billion in loans and grants to the mainland last year. It says less than 100 million people on the mainland live below the international poverty standard - earning less than US$1 a day. The figure, while still significant, represents a decrease from 1990, when the estimate was 280 million. Mr van der Linden said the key factor behind the drop in poverty was more than a decade of double-digit economic growth. The economic boom not only raised the standard of living for millions, but also created populations of wealthy people even in regions officially designated as poor. The changing demographic situation meant anti-poverty policies based on geography were inefficient, he said. To make the aid more effective, Mr van der Linden said the central government's emphasis should be on individuals, which could be achieved by expanding the current urban living allowance system. Local urban governments provide a subsistence wage to their poorest residents, most of whom are laid-off workers from state-owned enterprises. Last year, more than 22.4 million people received the payments at a cost of 15.1 billion yuan. He said the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) should be allowed to provide social services such as health care. 'We have found in other developing countries that NGOs have been extremely effective. They could have the same benefit in China,' he said. Mr van der Linden said it would also be important to step up environmental protection measures. 'It is the poor who mostly suffer the consequences from a worsening natural environment.' Mr van der Linden said the victims of annual floods in the central part of the mainland, brought on by deforestation and soil erosion, were mostly poor farmers. He applauded efforts by the central government, including the development of an index to measure ecological conditions of local regions, otherwise known as a green gross domestic product. 'It is never too late to protect the environment,' he said.