19 March 2017 ETH News
The WFP is using blockchain technology to create more efficient and secure support for humanitarian aid in a digital world.
The World Food Programme (WFP) provides food assistance to 80 million people in 80 countries around the globe. As part of the United Nations, they “oversee[ ] the delivery of supplies, IT systems and staff for the entire aid community during times of crisis.”
Reporter Scott Pelley once called the World Food Programme, “one of the best ideas America ever had.”
In a recent World Food Programme Medium post titled, “What is ‘Blockchain‘ and How is it connected to Fighting Hunger?” the WFP lays out a path whereby humanitarian agencies can form better partnerships with underserved economies in new and trustless ways by utilizing blockchain technology.
In the past, humanitarian organizations focused on supplying areas in need with the resources they required, such as food, water, shelter, medical supplies, critical infrastructure, etc.
However, “In recent years, WFP has significantly scaled up its cash transfers. In areas where markets and services are well functioning, these transfers are often more effective and efficient at improving livelihoods. Not only do they allow recipients to choose which food to buy, they also inject much-needed cash into local economies. WFP’s Innovation Accelerator is therefore exploring approaches to delivering cash-based transfers in order to reduce costs and risks, while improving data protection and speeding up delivery.”
By distributing cash instead of goods and services, the program extends more freedom and flexibility to those on the front lines to acquire the resources they need. But it also creates a whole new set of problems, specifically around the misappropriation of funds. If the cash goes missing, there may not be a way to track it, and that’s a problem for which the blockchain, as a distributed trustless ledger, affords a solution.
According to the article:
“The first, successful test at field level of WFP’s blockchain innovation — called ‘Building Blocks’ — was carried out in January deep in the heart of Sindh province, Pakistan. As vulnerable families received WFP food and cash assistance, the transactions were authenticated and recorded on a public blockchain through a smartphone interface. Transaction reports generated were then used to match the disbursements with entitlements.”
The World Food Programme sees enormous potential for Ethereum and blockchain technology to streamline the delivery of aid money to poorer nations, especially in times of crisis when fast action is critical and traditional payment channels are not up to the job, due to their slow and often antiquated technology.
The WFP is also looking to the blockchain for “identity management and supply chain operations” as well, to maximize the output that Ethereum can provide to their organization.
Since the advent of Bitcoin in 2008, humanitarians have extolled cryptocurrency as a solution for broader financial inclusion in developing nations. Alexi Lane, CEO of Everex Wallet, has said, “Ethereum can provide cost efficient and transparent solutions to replace bank accounts and to serve the un(der)banked population,” and it seems that the World Food Programme agrees.
As a sounding cry to the rest of the humanitarian community, the article closes by saying, “The full potential of blockchains can only be realized if all humanitarian actors collaborate around this platform.”