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UN Seeks $406 Million for Somalia Crisis in 2008

The United Nations has issued an appeal for $406 million in 2008 to ease the humanitarian crisis is Somalia. As Nick Wadhams reports from Nairobi, the United Nations says years of chaos coupled with recent fighting mean that one and one half million people in Somalia need help urgently.

The call for help is part of the U.N. worldwide annual appeal, which seeks $3.8 billion in 2008 for hotspots around the world, including Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Palestinian territories.

Underscoring the depth of the crisis in Somalia, the aid group Doctors Without Borders released a statement late Tuesday saying recent fighting had spurred a new exodus from the capital Mogadishu. It said there are about 200,000 displaced people living in miserable conditions along the road from Mogadishu to the city of Afgooye.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Eric Laroche, says he is hopeful that the appeal will raise the money that Somalia needs.

"I hope it is going to be more than what we got last year, and last year was not too bad," he said. "We got 70 percent coverage of the needs. Why is it that I am optimistic, it is that there is no doubt that the profile of Somalia has been raised a lot. One can say that people are talking more and more about Somalia."

At an event launching the U.N. appeal, Somalia's new prime minister, Nur Hassan Hussein, who was appointed late last month, acknowledged the world's expectations of the transitional federal government are high and said he hoped that the expectation would not turn into frustration.

Many aid groups have complained about the difficulty of working in Somalia. They face roadblocks manned by various factions, where workers may have to pay hundreds of dollars. Aid workers have been killed in the ongoing violence, and sometimes the transitional federal government has blocked them from doing their work. Few are operating in Mogadishu because the city is too dangerous.

Mr. Hussein said he would try to make things easier for aid groups in Somalia.

"The needs are definitely there and we as the government will try our best to facilitate the humanitarian operations," he said. "We will try our best to avoid that the humanitarian operations are hampered, we will try to respect the humanitarian code of conduct and I hope that the humanitarian community also will respect the rules and regulations existing in the country."

The harshest criticism of the transitional federal government came from Mr. Laroche, who is stepping down from his post in a month. At a news conference after Tuesday's event, he accused it of failing the hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

"I do not think the TFG as a government, which is responsible for the protection of its own people, has done the work that they were supposed to do, and I do not think they have done what they should have been doing in terms of facilitating the work of the international community," he said. "But what they have done is they have nominated a new prime minister which is very good news for all of us."

Somalia has been in a state of chaos since a 1991 coup ousted dictator Mohammed Siad Barre. A lose affiliation of Islamic groups were pushed from the capital after Ethiopian troops entered the country a year ago in support of the transitional government.