The United Nations is calling for new humanitarian aid for North Korea, warning that the country still suffers widespread malnutrition. U.N. officials hope the growing need in impoverished Afghanistan won't divert resources away from North Korea.

United Nations aid agencies are urging the global community to support new food and humanitarian aid operations for millions of impoverished people in North Korea.

Brendan McDonald, a U.N. humanitarian affairs officer, told reporters in Beijing Wednesday that despite almost seven years of U.N. aid efforts, North Korea still faces chronic malnutrition, high infant and maternal mortality rates and a host of public health problems. "It is clear that the solution to the chronic emergency in [North] Korea will not be through emergency relief interventions. Without a comprehensive rehabilitation and development strategy led by the government with the support of all stakeholders, the humanitarian crisis will continue for the foreseeable future," Mr. McDonald said.

Mr. McDonald says that among those suffering the most are more than two million children under five years old, who are at high risk of dying from disease or food shortages. He says almost 500,000 pregnant and nursing women were also malnourished and virtually the entire population of 23 million North Koreans lacked basic health and sanitation services.

Richard Corsino, Pyongyang-based country director for the U.N. World Food program, adds that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan might divert food and cash away from aid to North Korea. But he says he does not expect U.S. anti-terrorism efforts to interfere greatly with their aid program. "We've been given further indications that from a purely humanitarian perspective, we could expect some continuation of food. It may not be as much as we've received in the past, but looking solely at humanitarian issues, the United States government has indicated they may very likely continue to support us," Corsino said.

Last year the United States contributed more $90 million in food aid to North Korea through U.N. aid agencies, making it the second largest donor behind Japan.