A humanitarian catastrophe unfolds in the Central African Republic

  • French troops patrol the streets of the Galabadja neighborhood in Bangui on Dec. 14, 2013.
  • Sincere Banyodi, 32, a suspected member of a Christian militia lays wounded by machete blows in the Kokoro neighborhood of Bangui, on Dec. 9, 2013. Both Christian and Muslim mobs went on lynching sprees as French forces deployed in the capital. 
  • A muslim looks through the window of a mosque of Kina neighborhood, an area where members of the two religions decided to unite to protect their own churches and mosques, on Dec. 16, 2013 in Bangui.
  • People pray during a Sunday service at Saint Charles Lwanga church in Bangui on Dec. 15, 2013. The Central African Republic’s president offered to hold talks with Christian militia groups in efforts to end spiralling sectarian violence that has killed hundreds of people in a week.
  • A woman boils water in a refugee camp, close to the airport of Bangui on Dec. 14, 2013. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said the violence had forced nearly 160,000 residents of Bangui from their homes in the past week.
  • Diane Seresona is overwhelmed by grief as she sees the body of Prudence Seresona, 27, who had passed away from malaria at the makeshift camp for internally displaced people set up an the airport in Bangui, Central African Republic, on Dec. 13, 2013.
  • Thousands of refugees gather outside the airport of Bangui after fleeing violence on Dec. 11, 2013.
  • People queue for food aid distributed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) near a camp for internally displaced persons in Bangui on Dec. 13, 2013. 
  • People are pictured at a refugee camp set in the garden of Notre Dame de Fatima church, in Bangui on Dec. 16, 2013.
  • A boy stands beneath an aircraft in a refugee camp, in Bangui on Dec. 14, 2013. Sectarian tensions rose in the Central African Republic despite pleas from UN chief Ban Ki-moon and local authorities for an end to the carnage between Christian and Muslims that has killed hundreds. 
  • People carry containers on their heads as they cross the tarmac to reach the refugee camp, close to the airport of Bangui on Dec. 14, 2013.
  • People wait for food aid distributed by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) near a camp for internally displaced persons in Bangui on Dec. 13, 2013.

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More than 600 people died in the past week in violence between Muslim rebels and Christian defense forces in the Central African Republic. The recent battle displaced more than 100,000 people in Bangui, the capital. Some 30,000 have sought refuge at the Bangui airport.

The turmoil prompted French peacekeeping troops–the CAR is a former colony of France–to intervene. Two French soldiers have been killed.

The sectarian bloodshed seems to have subsided for the moment, but the months of fighting have created a major humanitarian crisis. All told, a half-million people have fled their homes.

Aid workers warn that the humanitarian crisis is deepening.

“We are in the thick of an absolutely catastrophic situation,” Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “The needs are immense, and the situation is getting worse.”

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) wrote an open letter to the UN to “express its deep concern about the unacceptable performance of the United Nations humanitarian system.” The MSF said it had asked for tents, food, and other supplies, and criticized the UN for focusing on evaluating the situation rather than offering “concrete action” to meet the country’s “glaring needs.” 

Some images from a country in chaos. 

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