updated 12/1/2005 3:22:01 PM ET 2005-12-01T20:22:01

The United Nations appealed Wednesday for a record $4.7 billion to ease major humanitarian crises around the world in 2006, with about a third slated for Sudan and the conflict in its Darfur region.

The appeal, which covers 31 million people mainly in Africa and Southeast Asia, is worth the equivalent of 48 hours of worldwide military spending, the U.N. said.

“In a world of plenty, continued suffering is a terrible stain on our conscience,” U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said. “It is inexcusable that we not strive, with every resource at our disposal, to eliminate suffering.”

The United Nations has never asked for so much money in its initial appeal to start the year. In the past, the United Nations traditionally split away major disasters and crises for their own fund-raising.

Improved stability has made much of Congo more accessible and given relief officials a better idea of what’s needed, prompting the United Nations to raise the amount sought to $1.17 billion, U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator Jan Egeland said.

Host of nations in crisis
Countries covered include a host of African nations that have long been in crisis, including Chad, Congo, Liberia, Somalia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. Also on the list are Russia’s breakaway region of Chechnya, the Palestinian territories, Colombia and Nepal.

The $1.5 billion sought for Sudan reflects the gravity of the problem in Darfur, where humanitarian work is threatened by continued clashes between government-backed Arab militias and rebel groups, Egeland said.

“It’s not going well in Darfur at all,” Egeland said. “We are stretched to the limit. We’re hanging in there by our fingernails.”

Donors around the world met just 57 percent of last year’s worldwide appeal, which started out at $1.7 billion and focused on forgotten crises. By the end of the year, after the South Asian tsunami and other disasters, appeals ended up reaching $5.9 billion, and the U.N. said some $766 million hasn’t been pledged or donated.

90 percent of aid from 10 nations
A chronic problem is that 90 percent of aid comes from just 10 nations, including the United States, Japan and several Scandinavian nations. Middle East and Persian Gulf states continue to eschew the appeals, Egeland said.

“We expect the oil-rich countries to give more to us than they are giving now on average,” Egeland said.

This year’s humanitarian appeal would cover work by 18 U.N. agencies and 113 non-governmental organizations operating around the world. He said that if other disasters arise as they did in 2005, the appeal could top $6 billion for the first time by the end of the year.

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