Calling the humanitarian situation in Somalia "a forgotten crisis," a top U.N. official has appealed for more than $160 million next year in international aid for the long-suffering Horn of African country.  The U.N. official says some areas in Somalia have the same mortality and malnutrition levels as the war-torn Darfur region of western Sudan.

A day after completing his three-day visit to Somalia, U.N. Humanitarian and Relief Affairs Coordinator, Jan Egeland, told reporters in Nairobi that far more international attention needs to be focused on Somalia, where an estimated one in five people urgently require assistance after suffering nearly 14 years of political and social anarchy.

Mr. Egeland's fact-finding mission was the United Nation's first high-level visit to Somalia in a decade.

"Today, we will be launching a new consolidated appeal for Somalia, an appeal where we ask for more than $160 million," he said. "That $161 million will be directed towards lifesaving assistance to primary education, to health care, to programs for protection of civilian populations, but also for building a new future for Somalia through reconstruction and helping new government structures. Next year will be a crucial year. It will be a make or break year for all of us for putting Somalia right for once." 

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew the regime of dictator Mohammed Siad Barre and plunged the nation of 10 million people into chaos.

The country remains a patchwork of fiefdoms run by warlords and their armed militias. But the creation of a new government in the past five months, cobbled together in neighboring Kenya after two years of talks, has raised hopes that Somalia could soon become stable.

Mr. Egeland says the priority for the international community now should be to help the new government rebuild Somalia's infrastructure, particularly its shattered health care system.

As an example, Mr. Egeland compared the current mortality rate in Somalia to that in Darfur, Sudan, where nearly two years of fighting between Sudanese troops, government-backed militia and rebels have caused what the United Nations calls "the worst humanitarian situation in the world." 

In Darfur, two out of every 10,000 people die every day from hunger or disease.  Mr. Egeland says the situation appears to be the same in some parts of Somalia, but laments that Darfur is drawing most of the world's attention and humanitarian aid.

"One death per 10,000 signifies a humanitarian emergency," he noted. "So, two signifies a big emergency. And I think that it's noticeable that the whole world rushed to Darfur to help, but nobody is rushing to Somalia to help."

Mr. Egeland acknowledges that there may be little international enthusiasm to help Somalia after billions of dollars were spent in the early 1990s in failed efforts to relieve the then-emerging humanitarian crisis. 

But he warns that without adequate attention and funding, Somalia could spiral further into despair and chaos from which it may never recover.