On May 30, the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) announced that 10,000 individuals had taken advantage of its trial to deliver food to Syrian refugees in Jordan using the Ethereum blockchain. The WFP’s platform was implemented by Parity Technologies, a startup lead by Gavin Wood, co-founder of Ethereum, as well as blockchain big data firm Datarella.
The operation allowed Syrian refugees to collect food paid for by the WFP from participating markets in the refugee camp in Jordan. Individuals had their eyes scanned to confirm they were one of the more than half a million refugees cleared to receive aid, after which they could receive their food.
This project could be a model for feeding refugees worldwide. Five million people have fled Syria alone, and many now live in poverty in nearby Jordan. The country is dealing with a major refugee crisis — in 2016, the UN estimated it is now home to 630,000 Syrian refugees, two million Palestinian refugees, and an ever-increasing number of asylum-seekers fleeing conflicts in Yemen, Somalia, and Iraq.
Blockchain could provide help on a much larger scale, and the WFP has an ambitious goal: to expand to 100,000 individuals by August, help the entire Jordanian refugee population by 2018, and eliminate hunger worldwide by 2030. The project’s success supports claims that blockchain could be used to transform the humanitarian and sustainability sectors.
“Through blockchain, we aim to cut payment costs, better protect beneficiary data, control financial risks, and respond more rapidly in the wake of emergencies,” explained Robert Opp, the WFP’s Director of Innovation and Change Management, in a UN press release. “Using blockchain can be a qualitative leap — not only for WFP, but for the entire humanitarian community”
Blockchain, the distributed ledger system supporting the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, has the potential to impact other industries as well. Toyota has proposed using the technology to expedite the development of driverless cars, and a recent report by Rethink Music claimed a change to cryptocurrency would decrease exploitation and corruption in the music industry: “The money would be automatically split according to the set terms, and each party’s account would instantly reflect the additional revenue.”
As famed futurist Ray Kurzweil asserted at the Exponential Finance Summit in New York City last week, Bitcoin might not prove to be the currency of the future, but blockchain is a technology well worth considering.