Blockchain Against Hunger: Harnessing Technology In Support Of Syrian Refugees

Published on 30 May 2017

MUNICH – The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is deploying cutting-edge blockchain technology to make cash-based transfers faster, cheaper and more secure.

In Jordan’s Azraq camp, 10,000 refugees are now able to pay for their food by means of entitlements recorded on a blockchain-based computing platform. This was developed by WFP as part of a pilot known as ‘Building Blocks’.

Blockchain is a way of organizing data through a distributed ledger, that is, a body of information that is shared among many people and places. This can speed up transactions while lowering the chance of fraud or data mismanagement. The ledger records transactions in a secure manner that cannot be changed. It allows any two parties to transact directly, and removes the need for third-party intermediaries such as banks.

“Blockchain technology allows us to step up the fight against hunger,” said WFP’s Director of Innovation and Change Management, Robert Opp. “Through blockchain, we aim to cut payment costs, better protect beneficiary data, control financial risks, and respond more rapidly in the wake of emergencies. Using blockchain can be a qualitative leap – not only for WFP, but for the entire humanitarian community”, he added.

WFP’s system relies on biometric registration data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and uses biometric technology for authentication purposes. Refugees purchase food from local supermarkets in the camp by using a scan of their eye instead of cash, vouchers or e-cards.

The conflict in Syria has forced close to five million people to flee abroad in search of safety. In neighbouring Jordan alone, WFP provides much-needed assistance to more than half a million Syrians.

The pilot aims to create a platform that the wider humanitarian community could use.  Depending on the results of the pilot, WFP will look at expanding the use of blockchain technology to areas such as digital identity management and supply chain operations.

WFP believes that twenty-first century developments in mobile technology, biometrics and solutions such as blockchain, have the potential to transform the lives of people in need across the world and address the roots of hunger. With its Innovation Accelerator in Munich, WFP is at the forefront of developing new tools and approaches to eliminate hunger by 2030.

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WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.

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For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):
Andre Vornic, WFP/Rome, Tel. +39 06 6513 22 81
Alex Sloan, WFP/Munich, Mob. +49 170 247 52 83  
Gregory Barrow, WFP/London, Tel.  +44 20 72409001, Mob.  +44 7968 008474
Gerald Bourke, WFP/New York, Tel. +1-646-5566909, Mob.  +1-646 525 9982