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Somalia Emerges From Years of Turmoil; Aid Still Needed - 2002-02-12

The United Nations has said a dramatic increase in international development aid for Somalia could help the poor African nation from turning into the next Afghanistan.

U.N. relief agencies say Somalia is slowly emerging from years of war, drought, and political turmoil, and it is time for the rest of world to pay more attention to the poverty-stricken African nation.

The deputy coordinator for U.N. Emergency Relief, Carolyn McAskie, has just visited southwestern Somalia as part of a campaign to get more international donations for U.N. operations in the country.

The United Nations is seeking $83 million for Somalia for 2002, after falling far short of its request for $130 million last year.

Ms. McAskie said she understands the donors' reluctance, but she said Somalia no longer deserves its image as a brutal society run by warlords, where most of the population is starving.

"I do not want to paint too rosy a picture," she said. "What I want to say is that people are working right now to rebuild their lives in a way that was not possible certainly 10 years ago, even five years ago, even three or four years ago. And that this is a positive shift that we want to support."

World leaders have raised alarms about Somalia in the aftermath of the September terrorist attacks on the United States. Given its fractured politics and poverty, some have expressed fears that Somalia could become a breeding ground for the same sort of terrorism that flourished in Afghanistan.

Ms. McAskie says Somalia could be a test case for whether development aid can prevent such instability.

"So that is the discourse we want to engender for Somalia. Is this a country in which the investment in development will be an investment in peace?" she said.

In Somalia, Ms. McAskie got a first-hand look at some U.N. relief operations. In the Gedo district, the U.N. is helping to fight the effects of a long drought. In the village of Bulo Burawako, about 800 families are fed by the World Food Program, and water wells are being drilled with U.N. funding.

In the battle-scarred town of Baidoa, the United Nations is providing maternal and childcare, tuberculosis treatment, and computers for a local training academy.

There are also signs in the region of the political tensions that persist, despite the relative peace. In the town of Garbaharey, local officials complained of meddling from neighboring Ethiopia.

In Baidoa, local leaders refuse to recognize the transitional national government in the capital, Mogadishu. They accuse the transitional authorities of encroaching on their territory.

But all the local faction leaders have promised not to interfere with U.N. relief operations.