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Syrian Refugees Are Able to Buy Food, Thanks to Blockchain

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A refugee camp located in Jordan is using an efficient blockchain system that allows Syrian refugees to pay for their food without cash, cards or vouchers. The initiative, termed “Building Blocks”, is a result of the collaboration between The World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In October 2016, Azraq refugee camp employed iris scanning systems in shops, so that refugees could look at the camera and simply receive their food after their identity was verified. Building Blocks created a private of fork of the Ethereum blockchain and tested their prototype using iris recognition technology in a field simulation in 2017. The project was then experimented in the Azraq refugee camp with over 10,000 people using the system. It provided a simpler solution for Syrian refugees who couldn’t verify their personal information or use their money. It also provided security, privacy of the users’ information and freed the camp from intermediaries.

The pilot was supposed to end on May 31st, however, it has been extended under the “scale-up” status. WFP is also looking for other use cases of blockchain that can help the refugees in any way. Robert Opp, WFP Director of Innovation and Change Management, said, “Blockchain technology allows us to step up the fight against hunger. 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.”

Building Blocks is the creation of Houman Haddad, who works as the Regional CBT Advisor for WFP. It has been previously tested in Pakistan as well as King Abdullah Park refugee camp. Haddad explained how the financial history could help refugees in the future, “[W]hat we’re doing right now is essentially we’re creating financial transaction histories for beneficiaries and just showing that your money may not be very meaningful on its own, but if you can show that you can save a bit of money, this can potentially count towards a credit score. So let’s say if a refugee then returns to Syria, potentially they could get a small business loan based on this and get back on their own feet.”

Image Credit: Deposit Photos

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