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At a glance: Haiti

On both sides of the border, essential aid and safe water for Haitian families

Responding to a children’s emergency

© UNICEF/2010/Bakody
Improvised tents were hastily put up on the grounds of the Buen Samaritano recovery centre in Jimani, Dominican Republic, after Haitian earthquake survivors there felt a powerful aftershock and became fearful of staying indoors.

By Jennifer Bakody

JIMANI, Dominican Republic, 29 January 2010 – A wide-open space the size of a football pitch looks like just the place for a group of children to kick around a soccer ball. Instead, the gated property of the Buen Samaritano hospital is filled with rows of blood-stained mattresses and sheltered by makeshift tents, which are no more than sheets stretched over sticks.

Injured survivors of the 12 January earthquake in Haiti were being cared for at the facility when a strong aftershock caused alarm. Parents immediately rushed their children out into the open field.

Buen Samaritano is one of five cross-border recovery centres now attending to the urgent medical needs of Haitian quake victims. Four of the facilities are located here in the border town of Jimani, in the Dominican Republic. The fifth one is located about 20 km away in Fond Parisien, Haiti.

Water and sanitation overstretched

With the exception of the public hospital in Jimani, all of the facilities are staffed by doctors and nurses from abroad – most of them from the United States. Supported by the Dominican authorities, they are doing all they can to provide life-saving medical care. Predominantly, this means resetting fractured bones and trying to prevent infections.

© UNICEF/2010/Bakody
UNICEF water and sanitation officers from Santo Domingo ordered new water tanks and toilets when the capacity of makeshift medical facilities in Jimani, Dominican Republic, and Fond Parisien, Haiti, came under strain.

Several thousand Haitians, an estimated 40 per cent of whom are children, depend on the five centres for treatment. In these crowded conditions, existing provisions for safe water and sanitation services have become overstretched.

In response, UNICEF’s country office in the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo, has taken urgent steps to help by procuring – and working with its partners and the Dominican Ministry of Health to install – toilets and water tanks for the recovery centres. Cleaning supplies have also been purchased and technical support provided.

Nothing but praise

Elizes and her son Malachy, 13, look forward to taking a proper shower.

© UNICEF/2010/Bakody
Malachy, 13, a survivor of the earthquake in Haiti, recovers from a leg injury on the grounds of the Buen Samaritano treatment centre in the Dominican border town of Jimani.

Since the earthquake levelled their home in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, they have not been able to change their clothes. Still, Elizes doesn’t complain. On the contrary, she has nothing but praise for the Dominican authorities and the health professionals at Buen Samaritano who helped to save her son’s lacerated and fractured leg and have kept his gauze bandages clean.

“We’re good,” she says, “aren’t we, Malachy?” The boy flashes a smile, proud to show off the pin that holds his upper thigh in place.

A matter of life and death

However welcome a shower and clean toilet facilities may be, access to safe water and sanitation in emergency situations such as this can take on life-and-death importance – because diarrhoea and other waterborne diseases are major killers of young children under five.

That’s why water, sanitation and hygiene are a major focus of UNICEF’s response to the children’s emergency in and around the Haitian earthquake zone. As of today, the agency and its partners are providing safe water to more than 400,000 quake survivors in all.



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