Bread and Cake

Phil in Afghanistan writes about what it is like living in a country in which there are many very poor people:

On the way back to the car, the girl, with the unerring accuracy of the terminally poor, spots me again, and comes running. I give her 10 Afs. Wordlessly, she takes it and turns away.

I have just spent more than 20 times that amount on food she will likely never eat.

I thought about this as I drove home. She will never eat a fruit tart, nor lychees with cream.

… Poor people are real. I met one, gave her next to nothing and drove on. I drove on to my lychees and walnut bread.

It means nothing and it means everything. Poverty is the sum of a lot of big things, but it is also the sum of a lot of little decisions that I make every day. And because we all make such decisions, poverty has long ago become a permanent fixture on the unreachable horizon, a cause we strive to but never seriously expect to reach.

I think that girl has a right to better than that.

Phil’s right: the girl has a right to better than that. We can do better than that.

In the fight against global poverty, we live still in an era of Victoria charity – throwing a few spare pennies to the poor in the workhouse.  We seem to assume, unthinkingly, that the poor (a) are in that condition partly as a consequence of their own fecklessness and (b) that there is nothing much we can do about it.  Neither of these assumptions is remotely close to the truth.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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1 Comment

  1. “We seem to assume, unthinkingly, that the poor (a) are in that condition partly as a consequence of their own fecklessness”Not quite. The fecklessness and rapacity of their rulers perhaps…..

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