Aid Agencies, Individuals Mobilize to Help Victims of Haiti Earthquake

International aid agencies are scrambling to respond to a major earthquake in Haiti and are predicting a disaster of catastrophic proportions in the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Reuters AlertNet reports. At the same time, individuals are stepping in to support relief efforts via multiple fundraising platforms, including handheld mobile devices.

Tuesday's 7.0 magnitude quake — the worst to hit Haiti in more than two hundred years — struck ten miles southwest of the nation's capital of Port-au-Prince, where about one million people live, many of them in sprawling shanty towns and extreme poverty. The quake and its aftershocks toppled countless buildings, including homes, the presidential palace and other governmental buildings, a UN office, a prison, and at least one hospital, leaving untold numbers of people homeless and perhaps hundreds of thousands dead.

In response to the disaster, a number of charities have made significant financial commitments, including $1 million from the UN Foundation; an initial $200,000 from the American Red Cross; $200,000 from the Inter-American Development Bank; $145,000 (�100,000) from CARE International; and about $363,000 (�250,000) from Irish aid agency GOAL. Many other groups around the world have launched appeals for donations, among them Haitian microfinance organization Fonkoze, the World Food Program, Christian Aid, Concern Worldwide, and Doctors Without Borders, whose facilities in Haiti were significantly damaged in the quake. For its part, the U.S. government has said it will provide immediate aid, mobilizing the Coast Guard in Miami to provide humanitarian assistance as needed, while France has said it is sending rescue services to Haiti.

At least two mobile fundraising efforts have been launched to catalyze individuals looking for a way to help. Yele Haiti, the foundation launched by musician Wyclef Jean, has encouraged individuals, including its thousands of Twitter followers, to text "Yele" to the short-code 501501 to automatically donate $5 for earthquake relief efforts. Similarly, the Red Cross is urging individuals to donate $10 to relief efforts by texting "Haiti" to 90999.

As donations pour in, charities with staff members on the ground in Haiti are working to assess the damage and help those in need. "The immediate need is to rescue people trapped in the rubble, then to get people food and water," said Sophie Perez, CARE International country director in Haiti. "We're particularly worried about the children, because so many schools seem to have collapsed. Children were still in school in the afternoon when the earthquake hit, so there are many children trapped. It's horrifying."

"United Nations Foundation Founder and Chairman Ted Turner Statement on the Earthquake and Relief Efforts in Haiti." United Nations Foundation and Exxon Mobil Foundation Press Release 01/13/2010. "Haiti: MSF Teams Set up Clinics to Treat Injured After Facilities Are Damaged." Doctors Without Borders Press Release 01/13/2010. Caroline McCarthy. "Online Masses Text to Offer Haitian Quake Relief." CNET 01/13/2010. Katherine Baldwin. "Aid Agencies Scramble to Respond to Massive Haiti Quake." Reuters AlertNet 01/13/2010.