A small town in the Dominican Republic becomes a gateway for relief efforts in Haiti

To overcome the massive humanitarian obstacles that still face some 3 million people affected by this week's earthquake in Haiti, UNICEF has issued a call for $120 million to support its relief operations in Haiti - part of a wider UN appeal for $562 million. Here is the story of one small town in the Dominican Republic that has become a gateway for the wider relief effort.

By Tamar Hahn

JIMANI, Dominican Republic, 16 January 2010 - Seven-year-old Jean -Paul sits up in his bed at a small hospital in the border town of Jimani, whimpering in pain. His arm and leg are bandaged and his face is swollen with a badly scraped cheek.

Two of his brothers are also at this hospital. All three were injured during the earthquake that levelled their native city of Port-au-Prince on 12 January. What Jean-Paul doesn't know yet is that his mother, his 18-month-old sister and a brother, who would have turned 14 on Thursday, died during the earthquake.

And yet, Jean-Paul is among the lucky few Haitians who have managed to make the 90-minute journey from Port-au-Prince to Jimani immediately following the earthquake and are now receiving health care in the Dominican Republic. Many injured children are still in the devastated Haitian capital, where they have little access to medical treatment and are, in many cases, all alone.

Overflowing hospital

Jimani is a small, dusty town that, during normal times, serves as a centre of commerce between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Since the earthquake, it has become a gateway for relief efforts and a safe haven for Haitians who are able to cross the border.

The town's hospital is small and is now close to overflowing. There are beds everywhere; mattresses are on the floor and in the hallways. Doctors and nurses move frantically from one bed to another, doing their best to attend to the wounded. The injuries of the victims are mostly trauma to the limbs, the result of fallen debris during the earthquake, and many amputations are taking place.

Across the street lies the Fortaleza del Rodeo, a military compound that has now been transformed into a humanitarian hub. Dominican soldiers stand outside their barracks, which personnel from UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the UN Population Fund and other agencies have taken as offices to coordinate the flow of supplies into Haiti.

Dominican civil defense personnel have pitched their tents in the yard. Helicopters constantly land and take off, bringing in supplies and evacuating the mot badly wounded.

'Just the beginning'

The border crossing is just a mile away from this building. On the Dominican side of the border fence, trucks line up waiting to cross over into Haitian territory. Supplies are flowing in smoothly, but the lack of communication with Haiti and the debris littering the streets of Port-au-Prince make distribution difficult.

From the Haitian side, ambulances stream in at a steady pace. Cars are also coming through, loaded to full capacity with Haitian bringing in the injured. Many have a dazed look on their exhausted faces.

"This is just the beginning," says UNICEF Emergency Specialist Pilar Cerdeña. "As the days go by, more people are going to start to make their way here, and we need to be prepared."