The United Nations (UN) has successfully completed a trial that enabled the organisation to send aid to Syrian refugees using the ethereum blockchain.
On the 31 May, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) completed its trial that was created to send direct funds to around 10,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan in the form of digital currency-based vouchers. These could then be redeemed at participating markets within five refugee camps around the country.
According to the UN, it’s estimated that there are around 20 million people on the brink of starvation with countries such as Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria experiencing the worst cases. Of course, while it’s the UN’s responsibility to respond to crisis depending on the situation, it can often require a significant amount of time in order to reach the people who require their assistance.
For the organisation it was imperative that a solution was sought, which is where the blockchain fits in, thus ensuring immutability and efficiency.
Introduced by Parity Technologies, previously known as Ethcore, a startup led by ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood and blockchain big data company Datarella, the WFP platform was able to successfully record and authenticate transfers.
Speaking to CoinDesk, Alexandra Alden, a WFP consultant who helped oversee the trial, said:
“All funds received by the refugees from WFP were specifically used to purchase food items such as olive oil, pasta and lentils.”
Knowing exactly how many transactions were conducted is currently being determined by the organisation.
Extending the Project
Now that the WFP have successfully completed their trial they are planning on extending it further so that it reaches more refugees in need.
As previously reported, the WFP is aiming to reach 100,000 people by August with the whole of the Jordanian refugee population on board by the end of 2017. It is hoped that by utilising the ethereum blockchain, the agency can positively show that the blockchain provides an effective link when distributing aid to people in need.
According to Alden, the WFP intends to increase the service into other countries too.
“The plan is to expand the project pilot firstly across Jordan, but we are also evaluating use cases and potential applications in other regions.”
Using the Blockchain to End Corruption
Another reason why the blockchain is ideal when it comes to delivering aid is the fact that it prevents corruption from taking place.
In 2012, Ban Ki-Moon, the 80th secretary-general of the UN, said that corruption in 2011 meant that 30 percent of all development assistance had been prevented from reaching those who needed it.
“This translates into bridges, hospitals and schools that were never built, and people living without the benefit of these services. This is a failure of accountability and transparency.”
However, it’s hoped that with the use of the blockchain it could help prevent this and may hold the answer that many are seeking.
Not the First Trial
This, however, is not the first time that the organisation has undertaken a trial to test the blockchain and its use with tracking the distribution of aid.
Prior to this, the WFP successfully completed its pilot project in the Sindh province in Pakistan, where it distributed food and aid to a group of 100 people. Through its Building Blocks initiative, vulnerable families took part in the pilot who were able to receive WFP cash and food assistance.
Through the ethereum blockchain the transactions were then confirmed and recorded with the use of a smartphone interface.
In a press release, Farman Ali, from the WFP Karachi province, which is the capital of the province of Sindh, said:
“Blockchain can revolutionise the way WFP delivers assistance to vulnerable families across the globe. It can bring us closer to the people we serve and allow us to respond much faster.”
Yet, as the development of the blockchain is still in its early days, the use of the technology still has a long way to go before it can fully eradicate the issue of hunger within many nations.
By 2030, though, the UN is hoping to achieve its Zero Hunger goal, which was launched by Ki-Moon in 2012. According to their Zero Hunger Challenge brochure, the organisation’s vision reflects five elements within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aims to get rid of all types of malnutrition and hunger while creating sustainable food systems.
Since the Jordan trial, the UN has also undertaken a number of blockchain projects through various other agencies under it, highlighting its embracive stance toward innovative technologies.
The UN Shows An Interest in Digital Currency
The UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has created a digital currency program that is designed to tackle organised crime and drug trafficking, which uses virtual currencies such as bitcoin or ethereum.
With experts from 22 countries taking part in the first courses, individuals were able to learn about the digital currency ecosystem, targeting the two most popular cryptocurrencies currently on the market: bitcoin and ethereum.
Law enforcement experts from the U.S. government showed participants how they could prepare bitcoin investigations, where to collect their information and how agencies around the world could work together to tackle to issue.
Even though these are just a few of the steps that the UN is taking with regards to the blockchain and digital currencies, it is showing its keenness at wanting to understand them both more. By doing so, they can utilise the blockchain to the best of their abilities, enabling them to help those in need faster and effectively when a crisis occurs.
Not only that, but by educating those on the inner workings of how digital currencies work they are potentially reducing the negativity that often gets associated with bitcoin when it’s used by criminals. By doing so, it may help bitcoin become a more accepted form of currency, which it’s struggling to do at present despite 2017 proving to be a good year for it.
With the UN’s WFP project proving to be a success it remains to be seen how much of an impact they will produce on refugees when they reach out to 100,000 by August.
Featured image from Flickr via UNAMID.