The one year anniversary of the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake has come and gone. While the efficiency of Haiti's relief and rebuilding efforts have been criticized by politicians and citizens alike, there is a powerful tool that has brought much assistance to the Haitian people and whose market for change continues to expand: the cellular phone.
Though Haiti is struggling with the disastrous effects of last year's earthquake and ranks as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, it is rich with cell phone users. Over 37 percent of Haitians have their own phone, and every Haitian household access to a cell phone, either owned or shared.
Immediately after the earthquake, text messages were lifesaving and served many purposes. Rescue workers relied on text messages for locations, health condition, and survivor identification. Trapped individuals texted rescuers as they waited for help to arrive.
An American tourist, trapped under floors of rubble when the hotel he was staying in collapsed during the earthquake, used his iPhone to save his life. A First Aid app taught him to tend to his wounds while the phone's flashlight and text messaging helped rescuers find him.
For aid workers, cellphone technology has proved invaluable. Administrators and volunteers texted Haitians across the country on various health related issues and provided information on clinic and camp locations. In one case, the U.S. Marines delivered water and sanitation facilities to a refugee camp after receiving text reports that water supply was dangerously low.
Perhaps most famously, the American Red Cross initiated the text "HAITI" to 90999 campaign to instantaneously donate $10. Donor aid by text message poured in; Less than two days after the quake, more than $7 million was raised.
Text message donations for the Haiti earthquake was revolutionary -- vastly outpacing donations in the past -- $4 million was raised by all text charities in all of 2009.
Aside from the huge success of text messaging, a new market for cell phone use in Haiti has been developed -- mobile banking. The technology is secure and increasingly popular among Haitian citizens.
ABC News reports, "the new way of getting paid is growing in popularity because it is safer than carrying around cash and it saves time that may have been spent waiting in line or traveling to bank branches."
According to USAID, before the earthquake, fewer than 10 percent of Haitians had ever used a commercial bank. Eighty percent of Haitians lived below the poverty line and those who could afford to save rarely used financial institutions.
After the earthquake destroyed over a third of the bank branches across the country, the already fragile financial structure collapsed. Utilizing a growing market, mobile banking and filled a growing need and increasing demand.
Mobile banking in Haiti is growing rapidly. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently awarded Haitian cellular operator, Digicel, $2.5 million for becoming the first company to launch a service for mobile banking. The funding was part of a USAID backed initiative to incentive's mobile phone-based financial services in Haiti.
Kenneth Merten, U.S. Ambassador to Haiti told the Washington Post: "Haitians are very entrepreneurial. Just days after the earthquake, I saw lottery booths, beauty shops and even movie theaters in the camps. And in the months since, businesses have been reopening and new ones taking shape. But most of these entrepreneurs have no means to track their money or put it somewhere safe. Mobile banking is just the beginning of innovations that could improve the lives of millions in Haiti."
Haitian citizens are quickly adopting mobile banking for another reason besides aid -- many companies are now paying their employees by depositing money on their cell phones, instead of making them wait in long lines to receive their cash on payday.
Benita Bellevue, a Haitian woman receiving assistance from Mercy Corps told Huffington Post blogger Linda Mason, "I like that mobile payment is discrete. No one knows when I receive the money."