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Blockchain: Alleviating Humanitarian Crisis?

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When we think about businesses that blockchain technology will reform, we probably think about cross-border transactions, energy sourcing, supply and demand, and maybe even polling booth security. A refugee camp in the Jordanian desert probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Even so, in a few exclusive initiatives, the United Nations is adopting blockchain applications to assist many destitute people living life in survival mode in the first of its kind in vital humanitarian programmes.

Assistance for refugees: The Building Blocks Project

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has started a project to ensure safe and fast transactions between refugees in natural disasters or war-struck nations and charitable donors. Known as the “Building Blocks Project,” it employs blockchain technology in collaboration with UNHCR’s biometric identification system to assist refugees in buying from the camp’s supermarket safely and hassle-freely.

Members of the programme are identified by their biometric eye-scan data. The spent amount is recorded on a permanent and secure blockchain ledger, which is shared with the supermarket. The programme not only cuts the local banking costs by a whopping 90% (2018 data) but also sets up beneficiaries to establish a credit history, so refugees can transact without the risk of getting caught up in the bureaucracy of official financial institutions.

The programme supports 1 million people in Bangladesh, Lebanon, and Jordan by allowing them to safely access numerous aid items, including money, food, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, education, medicine, and more, from multiple humanitarian groups in one “move”. At the same time, thanks to the underlying blockchain technology, no confidential material such as names, dates of birth, or fingerprints are saved on the ledger. The system employs anonymized identifiers to protect the cybersecurity of those served.

As one of the biggest supply chain blockchain projects, Building Blocks has been expanded to offer US $325 million in financial payments to 1 million refugees in Bangladesh and Jordan since 2017, making it the world’s greatest blockchain-powered humanitarian aid project.

Assistance to smallholder farmers: Decapolis

Farmers in most countries still have a limited understanding of best agricultural practices, food quality standards, and safety. Such knowledge is usually even lower for smallholder farmers, especially those from disaster-struck countries. Moreover, in such places, agricultural production is greatly hampered by structural difficulties such as a lack of water, energy shortages, and inadequate farming areas. Sadly, access to markets for smallholder refugee farmers in war-torn countries is further restricted by systemic problems such as fractured marketplaces, poor distribution networks, insufficient transportation and transportation networks, and business instability induced by factors such as strife in neighbouring nations, leading to these people having to cut down on profits and live harvest-to-harvest for their entire lives.

The WFP Jordan Innovation Hub initiated a trial study with Decapolis in November 2020 to develop a supply chain blockchain that records food products and tracks their production and distribution chains from farms to retail outlets. The remarkable ability of Blockchain technology to maintain an anonymous record, along with the nearly impregnable ledger, helps here too to keep the food quality and safety under constant supervision.

On top of this, Decapolis educates small-scale Jordanian peasants on agricultural best practices such as pesticide management and application and bacterial infiltration prevention strategies. Laboratory testing is done twice during the crop cycle to evaluate the soil and water conditions. On the other hand, smallholder farmers can employ the same Decapolis portal to enrol and confirm that their goods meet domestic and international food quality regulations. This blockchain application employs tracking features to allow merchants to browse and buy only verified commodities. 

So far, the Decapolis programme has helped 100 farmers, and more are coming on board. As a near-future project, Decapolis is developing a single-track food health system to facilitate monitoring health troubles that can result from eating food from unverified suppliers, which is a scorching issue among refugees.

Inclusion of the unbanked: EMPACT

The gross volume of the online gig economy is predicted to touch $455.2 billion by 2023, and yet, even now, more than 170 million young individuals from low- and low-middle income economies, as well as refugees and internally displaced people, do not have adequate exposure to technological education, equipment, and online job markets to take advantage of this expanding market.

EMPACT connects these individuals to the digital gig economy, allowing them to develop viable employment opportunities and improve their living conditions. The programme also trains students from various third-world countries in the latest IT skills and links them to private companies and online job marketplaces.

A recurring concern for this initiative has been that young people in many such countries are “unbanked,” i.e., financially excluded, with no access to official banking institutions, credit, or even simple savings accounts. Although cash transfers can be an option, they come with hefty transaction costs, making receiving money for microwork outrageously exorbitant. EMPACT is working with a startup to use blockchain applications to resolve the entire issue, just like it did for the Decapolis project. Blockchain technology manages the financial records and supply chain and tracks the transactions. The whole system will become much less complex for the organizers and more accessible and supportive for its users.

The future of blockchain applications in the humanitarian sector

The final goal of the humanitarian and development sectors of the UN is to achieve worldwide sustainable development. To accomplish this goal, the organization plans to employ a series of blockchain technology projects soon, and to materialize this future, they have created a collaboration platform, The Atrium, which enables the sharing of expertise and learning from each other. The Atrium is a collaboration platform designed for research and exploration that allows participants to cultivate new ideas and study each other’s blockchain applications. The Atrium comprises a web-based social interface with instructional material, a discussion board, a GitHub library of UN blockchain apps, and the architecture layer for setting up and running blockchain trials.

Ready to learn more about Blockchain Development? Contact our team of experts today and arrange your free consultation with a member of our friendly team.

Ralph Kalsi

Founder and CEO, Blockchain Australia ™

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The internet is an ever-growing platform that encompasses every part of our daily life. Blockchain is playing a huge role in transforming it.

Ralph Kalsi
Ralph Kalsi

Founder and CEO, Blockchain Australia