The United Nations has honoured Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu for his services to humanity with a Lifetime Humanitarian Achievement award. Tutu received the award in New York last week at the inaugural Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Awards ceremony.
The ceremony was aimed at highlighting all that the programme has achieved so far, and reminding all those involved of what has yet to be accomplished. Hosts included entertainment veterans Vanessa Redgrave CBE and Armand Assante.
The lifetime work of the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town was honoured alongside that of Dr Kevin Cahill, who also received the Lifetime Achievement award. Cahill, author and expert in tropical medicine, is the chief adviser for humanitarian affairs to the president of the General Assembly.
Cahill is best known for his research in tropical medicine in the Calcutta slums, where he worked alongside Mother Teresa, as well as for his relief work in the war zones of Somalia, Beirut, Sudan, and Nicaragua.
Awards were also given in each of the eight categories of the Millennium Development Goals - eradicating poverty and hunger; achieving universal education; promoting gender equality; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV and Aids; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership.
In his acceptance speech Tutu was as outspoken as ever, bitterly criticising governments who spend billions on buying arms, when so many of their own people live in squalor. If these power-hungry countries diverted just a fraction of their arms budgets to humanitarian causes, said the cleric, much suffering could be alleviated.
He also accused the world's powers of misplaced priorities in the so-called war against terror, fighting the symptoms when the root causes should rather be addressed.
"We will never win a war against terror as long as there are conditions in the world that make people desperate," said Tutu. That desperation, in many cases, is what drives people to engage in violent conflicts, he added.
Helping the world's poorest
The eight Millennium Development Goals are aimed at improving the lives of millions of poor people around the world by tackling poverty in its many forms. Under the MDG programme, issues that impede development, such as unemployment, lack of education, and disease, are to be addressed and resolved. The target date is 2015, by which time poverty around the world should have been halved.
With the catchphrase of "Make it happen", the MDG initiative is striving for significant change in each of its focus areas. It is twinned with the Humanitad Global Impact Forum, which brings together Nobel laureates, United Nations leaders and other international achievers to work towards an awareness of the global impact of the Millennium Development Goals.
The MDG programme arose out of the 2000 United Nations Millennium Declaration on poverty eradication, which was endorsed by 189 countries. The goals form a blueprint towards achieving the 2015 target.
While much progress has been made, there is still a long way to go. The United Nations has reported that the success of the programme depends to a large extent on whether developed countries will make good on their promises of aid.