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Cozy house warms hearts in winter

The time of issue:2012-10-25

For Meng Fanxing, 67, it will be his first warm winter in nearly 20 years thanks to the local government's Warm House project, a program that provides heating to elderly residents.

"The project not only warms my apartment but also my heart," said Meng, a retired worker who lives in Changchun's Blue Sky Community.

Meng and his wife have lived in the community for 17 years but were forced to suffer freezing temperatures because their apartment building is too old to keep warm in winter. Meng complained that he had to wear a sweater at home because the indoor temperature is about 18 C.

The community's secretary, Gao Fengzhi, explained that the oldest building in the community was built in 1947 and even the newest building is more than 30 years old. Most people living in the 7,134 households are retirees from State-owned enterprises.

Changchun is one of the old industrial bases in northeastern China and temperatures can plunge well below -20 C in winter. It houses many elderly communities, such as Blue Sky, that have no central heating and poorly insulated housing.

The local government has invested $448 million to renew the heating system and install insulation in old buildings over the past two years. The project has benefited 270,000 families, accounting for a third of the urban population.

Gao said her community has installed insulation in 36 buildings and plans to finish the rest by the end of next year.

"All residents are grateful for the project as nobody has the ability to do this by themselves. The project is really about our standard of living," Gao said.

Yang Yuchun, manager of a decoration company, said the indoor temperature could increase three to five degrees after the project.

Tian Pengyi, head of the sociology department at Jilin University, said: "The main aim of the Warm House project is to benefit low-income and vulnerable groups. It will also be conducive to balance the social gap between the rich and the poor and create a harmonious city."

In addition to the Warm House project, the Changchun government introduced a package of measures to improve the well-being of its residents, ranging from food supplies to increasing incomes.

The average personal disposable income has increased by more than 10 percent, reaching 20,480 yuan ($3,280) in 2011, according to the National Bureau of Changchun Investigation Team.

Gao Guangbin, Changchun Party chief, was called upon to ensure citizens share in the fruits of development.

The Changchun initiative is part of efforts being made nationwide to improve living standards.

Premier Wen Jiabao said at the start of the year that people's livelihoods are the top priority. "We should enable people to share the benefit of development, and promote social equity and justice," he said in calling for effective measures to improve livelihoods.

The government has promised to take measures to improve living standards for low-income groups, including financial investment and tax relief.

The northeastern region is the country's traditional industrial base with many old residential communities and even shanty towns. So local authorities chose the Warm House Project as a starting point.

Heilongjiang province, the northern neighbor of Jilin, updated its centralized heating with the help of a $150 million loan from the Asian Development Bank.

Teruhisa Oi, senior energy specialist in ADB's East Asia Department, said the project will not only benefit a quarter of a million households but also counter respiratory diseases caused by indoor air pollution.

Liaoning, the southern neighbor of Jilin, invested more than 70 billion yuan in old-community renovation. The latest official statistics reveal that 706,000 households and 2.11 million people have benefited from the program.

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