Mobile giving for Chile pales compared to Haiti

Image: Chileans walk to higher ground after tsunami warning
People walk up a hill following a 7,2-magnitude aftershock in Constitucion, Chile, Thursday, March 11, 2010. Several aftershocks rocked the country as President Sebastian Pinera was sworn into office. Pinera urged coastal residents to move to higher ground. Fernando Vergara / AP

So far, Americans have pledged $100,000 in donations via cell phone for victims of Chile's earthquake compared to more than $43 million raised that way for victims of Haiti's Jan. 12 quake.

The disparity may have to do with the difference in devastation of the two countries, both hard-hit. Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, suffered much greater loss of life and damage than Chile.

"Simply put, all earthquakes are not created equal," said Abi Weaver, senior press officer for the American Red Cross. "The damage and destruction from the Haiti earthquake was far more devastating and widespread than the Chile earthquake. The needs have been seen as far more extensive in Haiti, and the people have responded.

"Mobile giving, like giving through other channels, has been less for Chile, which has had, thankfully, less damage and a much lower death toll."

Nearly two months after the Haitian quake, no one really knows how many died, although the government estimates around 230,000 people. More than 1.2 million people lost their homes.

Chile experienced a magnitude-8.8 earthquake Feb. 27 that killed 500 identified victims and potentially hundreds of others, and destroyed or heavily damaged at least 500,000 homes. The country was rocked Thursday by a series of strong aftershocks, including one with a magnitude of 6.9, nearly as strong as the quake that devastated Haiti's capital on Jan. 12.

Mobile-donation campaigns were "up and ready to help within hours" of the Chilean earthquake, said Jim Manis, chairman and CEO of the nonprofit Mobile Giving Foundation.

The foundation has worked with Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, the nation's largest wireless carriers, as well as others, to arrange mobile donations for Haiti and Chile.

Manis believes the "primary reason" Chile's mobile-giving campaign has paled in comparison to Haiti's is that initially, after the first quake, "the Chilean government indicated that they did not need help. It was a government-to-government statement, but the public picked up on it."

Jeffrey Nelson, Verizon Wireless spokesman, agreed that the Chilean government's delay in an "official request for assistance" is one factor, but that there are others, including "considerably less damage and humanitarian need" than Haiti, as well as a "difference in mass media attention" on Chile vs. Haiti.

"That said, it's still been a substantial effort," he said.

"In the aftermath of the disasters in Haiti and Chile, we have an opportunity to assess how mobile giving worked," he said. "We need to understand what we all did right, where we can improve, and how to ensure that wireless givers can make their donations the most effective."

Donating by cell phone is relatively simple for users, who can send a text message using a five-number "short code" — such as "90999" for the Red Cross — to donate $5 or $10. The amount is added to the user's monthly phone bill.

The Mobile Giving Foundation said within the first 36 hours after the Haiti quake, donations made via mobile phones exceeded $7 million.

Previous donating-via-text message efforts raised far less in the U.S. — $400,000 after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and $200,000 after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

These are some of the text-message words and codes for donations to various organizations helping those in Chile:

Text the word "QUAKE" to 25383 to donate $10 to Catholic Relief Services

Text the word “RELIEF” to 85944 to donate $10 to Samaritan’s Purse

Text the word “CHILE” to 20222 to donate $10 to World Vision

Text the word “CHILE” to 52000 to donate $10 to Salvation Army

Text the word “CHILE” to 90999 to donate $10 to the Red Cross

Text the word “SAVE” to 20222 to donate $10 to the Save the Children Federation, Inc.

Text the word “CHILE” to 85944 to donate $10 to the International Medical Corp.

Text the word “4CHILE” to 50555 to donate $10 to the Convoy of Hope

Text the word “CHILE” to 50555 to donate $10 to the Friends of the World Program

The Associated Press contributed to this report.