By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) - The United Nations appealed on Wednesday for $1.5 billion to help save the lives of millions of Syrians suffering a "dramatically deteriorating" humanitarian situation.
The twin appeals are for $519.6 million to help 4 million people within Syria and $1 billion to meet the needs of up to 1 million Syrian refugees in five other countries until July 2013.
The United Nations said they comprised the "largest short-term humanitarian appeal ever", but still fell some way short of a comprehensive relief plan.
"The violence in Syria is raging across the country and there are nearly no more safe areas where people can flee and find safety," Radhouane Nouicer, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, told a news briefing in Geneva.
Noting that Syria's capital Damascus was the scene of "daily shelling and bombing", he added: "It is a realistic appeal that takes into consideration what we commit ourselves to achieve. It is not a comprehensive response plan, it is limited to what we can do in such a difficult operating environment."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on countries to respond generously to the appeals presented to donor governments in Geneva as winter takes hold in the region.
"I'm considering convening an international donor conference, in close coordination with key partners, early next year," he told reporters in New York.
FOOD, MEDICINE, SANITATION
Inside Syria, U.N. agencies aim to help 4 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, including an estimated 2 million displaced from their homes by fighting between President Bashar al-Assad's forces and rebels trying to topple him.
The plan provides for food, shelter and bedding, water and sanitation, emergency medical services, clothes, kitchen sets and baby supplies for beleaguered civilians in all 14 provinces.
The U.N.'s World Food Programme (WFP) is reaching 1.5 million Syrians inside the country with food rations each month, but said it faces increasing constraints, including mounting insecurity and fuel shortages.
"Food processing, milling, bakeries rely on fuel electricity to produce a bread product. And of course we are dealing with a largely urbanized population here, so naturally any interruption of that infrastructure is going to be cause for concern," said David Kaatrud, WFP director of emergencies.
More than 525,000 Syrian refugees have already been registered abroad and the latest estimate is that up to 1 million refugees in five countries, including Egypt for the first time, will need help in the first half of 2013, the U.N. refugee agency said.
WHOLE VILLAGES FLEE
There are already more than 10,400 Syrian refugees registered in Egypt, but the government estimates that there are tens of thousands who have not sought assistance yet, it said.
"The grim situation inside Syria has a direct impact on refugee outflows to the neighboring countries," Panos Moumtzis, UNHCR regional refugee coordinator, told the briefing.
"I just came from the borders where I was shocked again one more time to hear the horrific stories that refugees tell us about their experiences - fleeing violence, fleeing insecurity. We're talking about women and children, entire villages that are uprooted and flee to safety to the neighboring countries."
More than half of the Syrians affected by the 20-month conflict, both inside the country and in surrounding countries, are children under the age of 18, according to UNICEF.
"This represents children whose future is in jeopardy, children who are missing out on school, newborns who are threatened because they don't receive the life-saving vaccines and children who are severely affected because of the violence and trauma they are exposed to," said Maria Calivis, UNICEF regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"One of things that children ask for most, whether in camps or in displaced facilities within Syria, is schooling. This has been repeated to us over and over again. What children miss most is the opportunity to continue their schooling, no matter what their age."
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Kevin Liffey)