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Nobel Peace Price winner WFP and the Blockchain Technology

Author: Alessandra Guaitamacchi

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded, on the 9th of October, the Nobel Peace Price for 2020 to the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN’s humanitarian organization, which delivers food assistance in emergencies and works with communities to improve nutrition.

As a matter of fact, it has been proven a strong relation between hunger and conflicts; food scarcity can cause disputes which lead to the use of violence, and vice-versa. As Covid-19 has contributed to an upsurge in the number of victims of hunger in the world, the WFP has demonstrated to have an impressive ability in intensifying its efforts to improve the conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas, this also by implementing the blockchain system in its humanitarian programs around the globe.

Kupatalong is the world’s largest and most densely populated refugee camp, located in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Is home to more than 800,000 people, predominantly Rohingya refugees that have suffered violent persecutions in neighboring Myanmar. Refugees are meant to receive food rations to about 2100 kilocalories each day, which is the minimum humanitarian food package required to maintain a stable nutritional status. However, this has not always been guaranteed to the entire population of the camp, and in March 2020, the WFP introduced the blockchain technology to simplify and broaden its services to over 500,000 of the Kupatalong’s refugees.

Cash value from WFP or other partners is stored in a digital beneficiary account maintained on the blockchain, and through a QR code the necessary amount can be retrieved from the refugee when needed. Each individual has a private QR code, and once selected the necessary aliments from a store, it is scanned and cash is sent from the digital account to the local retailers contracted to run those outlets, helping also the economy of the community. These transactions are updated in real-time on the Blockchain system. This technology has been fundamental to improve: coordination of the non-profit organization, transparency on the assistance provided and anonymity. The latter is key for refugees who have left endangered zones, as the WFP has to ensure their privacy to prevent personal information to be used against them in any possible manner.

The use of Blockchain in Bangladesh is only part of a broader project called “Building Blocks”, which began in Jordan in 2017. Syrian refugees had fled to a refugee camp in Jordan, in which the UN’s WFP had set up supermarkets in which they could buy the aliments they needed. The WFP turned to the blockchain technology to create each refugee an account which was credited with cash, and when in the store, they would verify their identities with an iris scanner and then collect the credits for food.

Building Blocks has been developed with the aim to help people make choices that reflect their true necessities and interests. It has given assistance especially women who are often forced by conflict into being the main caregivers for their families. The World Food Program has provided them with a greater variety of choices in order to empower them to exercise greater control over their lives.

Furthermore, the World Food Program Innovation Accelerator, which supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide, has established (together with the United Nations Innovation Network (UNIN), UNICEF Innovation and UNDP Innovation) The Atrium. It is a list of learning resources to teach the fundamentals of blockchain to beginners and showcase the various projects currently being worked on, or in production, around the UN.

In conclusion, the World Food Program has widely integrated the blockchain technology into its operations, and has proven that it can also be applied to non-profit operations, a view of the technology which has not been develop as much as others, but could benefit a larger portion of people.

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