A United Nations relief official says Somalia may finally be returning to a degree of stability, after years of drought and civil war. That optimistic assessment comes primarily from improvements in health care and education on the grassroots level.

U.N. Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Carolyn McAskie says Somalia is a very different place from what it was just a few years ago. She points to work being done by local communities, as the strongest evidence of that change. Schools are being reopened and rebuilt, country-wide immunization programs are now being implemented and, she say, an interim government in Mogadishu is beginning to exercise a degree of influence.

Nevertheless, Ms. McAskie says this is only the beginning.

"Somalia, I'm not trying to pretend, has suddenly turned the corner. But if you look at Somali communities now you will find a level of stability such as we haven't seen in a long time," she said. "And the message that we want to get out is of a Somalia that is starting to build itself up from the grass roots."

Ms. McAskie points out that despite years of drought, aid agencies have enough food on hand to feed those most in need. She also notes that key economic reforms, such as agricultural investment, are beginning to take hold.

However, she warns that for international investment to pick up, the image of Somalia as a country on the verge of anarchy and starvation must be changed. In order to do that, the U.N. is now launching a new donor appeal which emphasizes the progress now underway in Somalia.