Nearly 27 million people remained below the poverty line in rural China at the end of last year after a decade of efforts to alleviate deprivation in the countryside, a white paper issued by the State Council yesterday said. The figure is down from 94 million people in 2000, as a result of government efforts to restructure rural economies, reform of agricultural taxation and subsidies, increased direct support for low-income families and the elderly, and the boosting of educational opportunities. The paper, 'New progress in development-oriented poverty reduction programme for rural China', documents the central government's achievements in tackling poverty outside the cities since the development-driven policy initiative was adopted in 2001. The central government's contribution to poverty alleviation more than doubled during the decade covered by the policy, the report stated, rising from just over 10 billion yuan in 2001 to 22.27 billion yuan last year. The paper highlighted that 20 million poor mainlanders benefited from foreign aid provided through some 110 development projects. That aid had, 'according to incomplete statistics', channelled some US$1.4 billion into the country from abroad to support poverty reduction by 2010. The report - accompanied by an 8,600-word English translation - is overwhelmingly positive and largely relates government efforts to reduce poverty in glowing terms. For example, the paper says 60.9 per cent of rural households gained access to tap water or well water by the end of last year - but it makes no reference to the fact that means 39.1 per cent of homes are without a safe source of drinking water. The official poverty line used for the statistics was set at an annual income of 1,274 yuan last year, up from 865 yuan in 2000, an average annual increase of just under 4 per cent. Economist Mao Yushi said that although the level was 'very low', the increase was 'roughly the same as inflation'. 'You need to set a standard somewhere, as only then can you have comparison both over time and between different countries,' Mao said. 'But the most important question is whether the poverty situation in rural China is improving. I believe that it is, and over the past decade the rate of progress has been quite obvious.' However, Mao said much of the improvement in rural living standards was not due to government efforts to tackle poverty directly, but was the result of money sent home by the massive numbers of migrant workers who had gone to find work in the cities over the past decade. 'Incomes in the countryside are still very low on a national stage, but they have been increasing at well above inflation,' he said. 'Unless there is a major change to the situation, I don't see any reason why the trend towards better lives in rural communities will not continue.'