Your Excellency, My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Like many of you, I am sure, I have vivid memories of seeing and hearing reports of the terrible floods which devastated swathes of Pakistan in 2010. One could not fail to be profoundly moved by those shocking images of individuals clinging desperately to any structure higher than the flood waters to avoid being swept away in the torrents, or, a little later, of families searching desperately for their loved ones in the wreckage of their homes and villages - as we saw in that film just now. So seeing the sheer scale of the suffering and destruction and being only too aware that many of our British Asian community come from or around Nurpur, I turned immediately to the family of my charities to see what practical support we could offer. In this sense I really could not be more grateful or indebted to John O’Brien for responding in his usual, remarkable, energetic and well organised way. Having known him for many years I knew I could rely on him. Ladies and Gentlemen, as you will know better than me several different groups, including my own British Asian Trust, answered the call straight away leading quickly to a ‘Seeing is Believing’ visit to Pakistan led by a number of prominent business people, many of whom are here this evening. Being the people they are, this group rapidly assimilated what was happening on the ground, scoping both the needs and the practical measures needed to meet them. This in turn led to the establishment of the Pakistan Recovery Fund, to raise vital funds to support projects in education, livelihood, homes and health. As ever, my British Asian Trust places the highest possible priority on transparency, quality control and delivery on the ground, which I hope provides the kind of reassurance that is so necessary for generous donors, like so many of you are here this evening.
As my wife and I saw for ourselves when we paid an Official Visit to Pakistan back in 2006, it is not only a country of incredible beauty but also one of great resilience. Our visit coincided with the first anniversary of the earthquake of 2005 and as President of the British Red Cross, I saw at first hand how people around Pattika were rebuilding their lives and their livelihoods. This resilience has subsequently been tested again and again; the floods of 2010 have returned to Pakistan this year. Despite the scale of devastation, the level of suffering and the level of need, the story seems to vanish all too quickly from the headlines as the world’s attention turns to disaster and destruction elsewhere. Yet the suffering and need in Pakistan goes on... Another reason, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I have for so long tried to draw attention to the urgent need to act on human induced climate change before it is too late and the poorest people on earth suffer even more.
That, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the point of our dinner this evening. It is to try, in a small way, to draw the spotlight back towards those people in Pakistan to whom our hearts went out last year and again earlier this year. It is to say, in the loudest and most public way, that they need our help and that we must not be silent in their time of need. But it is also to bring a message of hope and optimism. Here is an opportunity to rebuild towns, villages and infrastructure, not to mention livelihoods and health in a manner which is in harmony both with the natural environment and with the needs, wishes and traditions of local communities. I cannot help but think that, if this balance is respected, recovering communities will find themselves inhabiting a built environment with which they feel the strongest affinity and even better which avoids the need to rebuild all over again when the next natural disaster may come... There is also a vital point here about the importance of the built environment in promoting and protecting a sense of local identity. Surely it is this sense of identity and belonging which offers an indispensable rallying point for people not just in Pakistan but right across the world as they try to come to terms with the ever accelerating pace of change and globalization? It is certainly a lesson which we are increasingly taking to heart in this country.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in concluding I need hardly say that the work of the Pakistan Recovery Fund is, in many respects, just beginning. I am so pleased to have this opportunity to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you for joining me in a determination to make a real and positive difference to the lives of those about whom we care so much. This issue may have slipped from the attention of many, but it has not slipped from ours. Thank you.
This issue may have slipped from the attention of many. But it has not slipped from ours.