United Nations (CNN) -- A global recession and the hijacking of international aid are among factors behind a potentially "life-threatening" humanitarian funding crisis facing Somalia as aid funds dwindle, according to the United Nations' top envoy to Somalia.
"Time is precious," humanitarian coordinator Mark Bowden told reporters at the U.N. Tuesday. "If we don't resolve this, the humanitarian crisis consequences will be very grave."
Roseanne Chorlton, Somalia coordinator for the United Nations Children's Fund noted that a failure to acquire at least $12 million in funding in the first quarter of 2010 would lead to dire consequences.
"People will die. Children will die," Chorlton said.
Somalia is home to one of the world's longest-running humanitarian crises due to an ongoing civil war that began in 1991 and grew to involve neighboring country Ethiopia in 2006. Following the withdrawal of Ethiopian forces in early 2009, the southern half of Somalia fell into the hands of Islamist rebels. Severe drought has exacerbated the situation for the 3.6 million civilians in need of assistance.
Last Thursday, Bowden launched a $689 million appeal for aid, intending it to go towards 174 humanitarian projects in Somalia next year. Because last year's appeal was only met halfway, Bowden's primary concern is that there will be no leftover funding from 2009 to "carry over" into next year. In the past, surpluses have been vital in bridging budget gaps.
Fluctuations in currency rates due to the current economic crisis are also responsible for smaller amounts of aid being brought into Somalia.
"We're not seeing that money, and unless something dramatic happens we will start 2010 with zero," Bowden said, indicating that his mission is talking to donors and other groups to prevent a "critical funding gap." Without sufficient aid, further strain would be placed on Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, which are often destination sites for displaced Somalians.
Bowden said "decision-making has been quite slow" in a number of donor countries that have traditionally contributed funds to Somalia. The United States, which is responsible for a "large chunk" of assistance to Somalia, has been among those concerned about terrorist interception of foreign aid.
Bowden explained that terrorism was "only one element" of the funding gap.
"There's a sort of indiscriminate view that all aid is difficult to deliver and I think that that's not the case," he said. "It is not impossible to provide assistance there, though we recognize the constraints."