United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to Test Blockchain for Refugee Aid Supply Chain in Africa

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) recently piloted a new Ethereum-based system, allowing users to make cash transfers into refugee camps in Jordan. The project has been called Building Blocks, but the WFP wants to continue on this progressive path. In a recent announcement, the organization decided that the next logical step is to expand their blockchain’s testing. Right now, the testing is from refugee aid that is in the Middle East, but it will soon be adapted to the supply chain management within Africa.

The blockchain will be tested to see how effective it is can be for tracking East Africa’s food delivery. It will log details about the migration from Djibouti’s port to Ethiopia, which is where most of South African’s food operations take place. This testing phase was confirmed by the WFP director of innovation and change, Robert Opp.

The goal of this new project, according to Opp, will be to answer a singular question –

“Can we increase efficiency by knowing in real time where the food is, be able to demonstrate the food's origin in shipment points, to have this traceability record?” The WFP also wants to work with Syrian refugee women in Jordan, helping them to preserve their personal information and limit the amount of third-party access with a permission-based blockchain system. Opp noted, “We want to know how easy it is for people to interact with a system like blockchain and understand, ‘this is my data, I can control access.’ We yet have to figure out how it will look.”

Building Blocks will be the breeding ground for this educational initiative. Building Blocks was only launched last year, but it has managed to reach over 100,000 refugees. In the utmost level of identity verification, everything from paying for groceries to receiving cash back is performed after a quick iris scan, which would be nearly impossible to hack.

As each transaction takes place, the blockchain records them on a privatized Ethereum ledger. There will also be digital literacy support, due to a recently-announced partnership with the cash-for-work program by the UN Women.

When Opp spoke at a panel at the Concordia Summit in New York, he discussed the achievements that the Building Blocks effort has reached, specifically regarding the Jordanian refugee camps.

He said,

“We are reaching 106,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan every month with cash benefits transfers. By implementing blockchain system we have been able to save around $40,000 a month in the transfer fees.”

Right now, there are four nodes for the storage of partial personal data of registered users on the WFP network. Opp noted,

“The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees keeps the full biometric data in a secure cloud solution. We only download some basic unique identifying information, we don't put their full information on blockchain. I'm not even sure that their full names go there.”

Even though the project is presently operating on a private version of the blockchain, Opp noted that the transition to a public network is not out of the question. However, it seemed that he was only willing to move it over if there are speed concerns, which should not be an issue for the current system.

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