After decades of under-development and neglect, the Central African Republic entered a phase of extreme instability including the total breakdown of law and order when rebels known as the Seleka overthrew the government in early 2013.
Widespread violence, severe human right violations and mass looting sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing into the forest and to makeshift camps. The formation of self-defence militia, the anti-Balaka, triggered a cycle of revenge killings that is still continuing.
The conflict intensified and turned sectarian in December 2013.
In the capital Bangui alone, almost a million people fled their homes throughout the crisis.
More than 100,000 people took refuge at the airport in Bangui. Some have now returned to their homes; others have fled the country altogether; but tens of thousands are still at the airport. Their despair epitomizes the plight of the entire nation.
This is their story.
The roar from the cargo plane delivering aid is deafening. For minutes, the only sound to be heard comes from its four massive engines. But as the plane pulls off from the runway, its engines die and it comes to a stop, a new sound becomes audible. It begins as a faint hum and builds to a murmur and then a constant din.
It is the sound of 60,000 people. It is the sound of tens of thousands of conversations, of cries of frustration, of cooking, of children playing. It is the sound of daily life for the people who now call M’Poko International Airport home.
Just to the side of the runway, past the terminal building, a massive camp stretches out to the edges of the airport compound. Between the arrival of military aircraft and commercial jets, women and children cross the runway to gather water, food and wood for cooking. The people here fled their homes because they were no longer safe.
2.5 million people are in need of humanitarian aid #CARcrisis
More than 600,000 people are displaced in the Central African Republic #CARcrisis
450,000 people fled the Central African Republic to neighbouring countries #CARcrisis
Aid agencies are providing support but the conditions at the airport, and at hundreds of other informal sites like it across Bangui and around the country, are basic. People have had their lives torn apart and are living in rudimentary shelters. With the arrival of the rainy season, they face floods and the threat of disease.
Yet most people cannot return home. The threat of violence from the armed militias that still stalk the city is simply too great, too real. So they stay at the airport and at places like it, relying on the United Nations humanitarian agencies and NGOs for support.
This is the worst crisis in the history of the Central African Republic, and one of the worst in Africa in decades.
An estimated 2.5 million people need basic support to survive.
The UN and its partners need US$551 million to provide assistance. So far, we have received less than a third of what we need.
We cannot let the people of the Central African Republic down.
Visit the UNOCHA Central African Republic web page to put the humanitarian crisis in context.Visit unocha.org
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Photos: UNOCHA/Phil Moore. The designations employed and the presentation of material on the map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.