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LONDON: At least 5 million people in Sudan are “one step away from famine,” the head of office at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Sudan said on Friday.

Justin Brady told a media briefing that an added 18 million people across the country were facing acute food insecurity amid the ongoing battle between the Sudanese Armed Forces and units from the Rapid Support Forces.

Thousands have been killed and a humanitarian crisis has unfolded since the conflict erupted 12 months ago on Monday.

More than 8.5 million people have fled their homes, with nearly 1.8 million escaping across the country’s borders.

Brady called on both the SAF and RSF to protect civilians and allow desperately needed humanitarian aid into the country, adding he was “particularly worried” about the situation in the Darfur region.

Michael Dunford, regional director for East Africa at the World Food Programme, said there was a “very real risk” of the situation in Sudan becoming the “largest hunger crisis anywhere in the world.”

He added that the emergency could also spill into neighboring countries, such as Chad and South Sudan, unless there was an immediate end to the fighting.

France is hosting a pledging conference in Paris on Monday to help Sudan and its neighbors cope with the fallout from the civil war.

The UN has said $4.1 billion is needed to meet the humanitarian needs, and both Brady and Dunford said it was “essential” that countries donated the required funds. They criticized the lack of access for international journalists to cover events in Sudan, which they said had led it to becoming a “forgotten conflict.”

Also on Friday, World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva that time was running out to avoid a catastrophe in Sudan.

He warned of Sudan’s collapsing health system, with acute shortages of staff, medicines, vaccines, equipment and supplies, and said 70 to 80 percent of Sudanese hospitals and clinics were not functioning due to the conflict.

“Without a stop to the fighting and unhindered access for the delivery of humanitarian aid, Sudan’s crisis will dramatically worsen in the months to come and could impact the whole region” in terms of more refugees, the spread of disease and food insecurity.

“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg,” he added.

Thair Shraideh, the UN Development Pogramme’s resident representative in Sudan, said the country was plunging into “an accelerating food security crisis.”

He continued: “The study warns that a famine in Sudan is expected in 2024, particularly in the states of Khartoum, Al-Jazira, and in the Darfur and Kordofan regions.”

The US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on Thursday pledged US funding for Sudan, and also called on donor countries to dig deep at the Paris event on Monday as she bemoaned the severe lack of funding so far.

“To date, just 5 percent of the UN’s humanitarian appeal for Sudan has been met. Already, the WFP has had to cut assistance to over 7 million people in Chad and South Sudan, and that includes 1.2 million refugees, people who were already struggling to feed themselves and their families,” she said.

“This is a matter of life and death. Experts warn that the coming weeks and months, over 200,000 more children could die of starvation. The US, for our part, plans on significantly increasing our funding in the days to come,” she added.

Thomas-Greenfield also agreed that Sudan and its crisis was being forgotten.

“Just five years after a revolution that offered a glimpse at a free, peaceful, democratic Sudan, people are losing hope. Aid workers have begun calling this conflict the forgotten war,” she said.

“Sudanese children are asking why the world has forgotten them. And let’s be clear: I don’t believe the dearth of attention is because people are ignorant or unfeeling, in fact, I believe it’s the opposite. I believe it’s because there are so many terrible crises, so much violence and pain, that people don’t quite know which way to turn.”