GENEVA (AFP) - More than four million people inside Syria are in desperate need of aid, up sharply from 2.5 million in September, the United Nations said on Tuesday, urging a rapid political solution to the crisis that has claimed at least 70,000 lives.
"We are watching a humanitarian tragedy unfold before our eyes," Ms Valerie Amos, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, told reporters in Geneva.
Speaking after the seventh Syrian Humanitarian Forum bringing together different UN aid providers, she said the meeting had been heavily focused on "securing access to the millions of Syrians who desperately need help".
She said access was especially difficult in the opposition-held north, lamenting that the regime in Damascus was continuing to block UN agencies from bringing aid across the border from Turkey, forcing them to carry it across the battle lines instead.
"I have spoken to the government on a number of occasions about allowing us to bring in supplies across that border," Ms Amos said. "My last conversation with them was yesterday. The answer remains no."
Mr Jens Laerke, spokesman of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said: "We consider these fairly conservative figures, and we are aware that there are probably a lot more people."
According to numbers provided by the US mission in Geneva, in six northern governorates alone - of a total 14 in Syria - some 1.1 million people have been displaced and more than three million are in need of food and health assistance.
Ms Amos described the situation in the war-torn country as "devastating," lamenting that even though all the UN agencies working to help Syrians in need have dramatically scaled up their efforts, "we are not reaching enough of those who require our help."
The crisis "requires a political solution," she said, adding: "The key tragedy here is that the international community has not found a political solution to this crisis."
The UN says at least 70,000 people have been killed in the near two-year conflict, while some 2.5 million displaced by the fighting but remain in Syria.
Earlier on Tuesday, the UN refugee agency said the number of Syrians who have fled their conflict-ravaged homeland has now topped 850,000.
Only a year ago, the UN said 33,000 Syrians had fled the conflict which erupted in March 2011 as the regime of President Bashar al-Assad launched a bloody crackdown on protests.
The UN has warned that refugee numbers could reach 1.1 million within months in what has become an increasingly radicalised civil war in the nation of almost 21 million.
Around 97 per cent of the refugees have fled to neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, said Ms Amos.