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February 23, 2010

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Fishing families are going ashore

SOME 7,550 people living on boats in central China's Hunan Province have been persuaded to live on the land in new apartments with the help of government subsidies.

Xiao Yongzhong, 36, paid 40,000 yuan (US$5,850) for a 75-square-meter apartment at the end of last year with the support of a 20,000-yuan government subsidy.

The subsidy is designed to encourage permanent boat residents to move and live on the land. The market price for his apartment would have been above 80,000 yuan, Xiao said.

"It's the first warm winter we've ever spent. It's like a dream," Xiao said sitting beside an electric heater with his wife and son in the three-bedroom apartment in Yueyang County near the Dongting Lake.

"Before, we spent every day in an 8-square-meter houseboat for fishing. I thought I would live like this for the rest of my life," Xiao said.

The couple suffered serious rheumatism and schistosomiasis like many other fishing people in the region.

Dongting Lake, China's second largest freshwater lake, has been home to thousands of fishing households unable to afford life on land.

Many of them suffer waterborne diseases and are not able to enjoy social welfare services or preferential policies for farmers, according to Deng Weimin, deputy director of Hunan Bureau of Livestock and Aquatic Products.

Hunan launched the project a year ago.

So far, about 2,322 households have been relocated to apartments, supported with 47 million yuan in government subsidies, according to Deng.

More than 2,000 government officials have made door-to-door visits, persuading fishing households to quit their lake life.

Moreover, 3,096 houseboat dwellers are expected to have their dilapidated houses on land fixed by next month with subsidies.

The new village established for Xiao and other fishermen is equipped with a community center offering medical and other basic services.

More than 10,400 eligible fishermen have received low-income living allowances and nearly 40,000 were enlisted in the medical insurance system for farmers. More than 2,600 children have entered schools.


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