GENEVA, 28th November 2015 (WAM) — An estimated 1.2 million children are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance nearly three years after conflict erupted in the Central African Republic, the United Nations Children’s Fund announced.

As the nation prepares to welcome Pope Francis Sunday for a two-day visit aimed at promoting reconciliation, Unicef has called on all parties to the conflict to grant unrestricted access to organisations seeking to aid those affected by the crisis.

“The violence that has plagued this country has had a devastating impact on the lives of children,” Mohamed Fall, Unicef’s Representative in the Central African Republic, in a press release. “The humanitarian needs are overwhelming, to meet them we need access and we need greater international support.”

Unicef estimates that more than two million children have been affected by the violence which first broke out in December 2012 and which reached crisis levels in December 2013 following clashes that led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands in the capital, Bangui.

Nearly 400,000 people remain displaced within the country, and renewed clashes in September created an additional 39,000 internally displaced people in Bangui. A further half a million people are living as refugees in neighbouring countries, according to Unicef.

Insecurity and underfunding continue to put urgent lifesaving activities at risk, while attacks on humanitarian conveys threaten the deployment of relief supplies to the interior of the country.

Even in those areas not affected by the fighting, communities continue to need support. Around one third of the population has no access to safe drinking water and 41 percent of children under five are chronically malnourished.

Despite the scale of the emergency, Unicef has received US$37 million – or just over 50 percent – of the US$70.9 million required to provide urgent lifesaving interventions for the most vulnerable in 2015.

A song for peace, written and sung by children, has been playing on radio stations ahead of the Pope’s arrival. The song’s lyrics, which call for national unity and an end to the fighting, were submitted by three children in response to a Unicef-organised competition with the leading radio broadcaster in the country, Radio Ndeke Luka. Three other children were selected to perform the song.

“We are hopeful that the voices of these children will be heard, and that the Pope’s visit to CAR will promote reconciliation, in a country that is in desperate need of peace,” Mohamed Fall said.