Blockchain can help identify refugees and end famine

11 September 2019
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AllAfrica InfoWire (Washington, DC)

Blockchain can give refugees digital identities and help them access food with secure payments

Post-World War II Europe was a hellscape: refugees flowed outward and famine raged. In response, the US came up with the Marshall Plan that pulled western Europe back from the brink. In today's world, and especially in Africa, refugees continue to flow across borders and famine continue to rage. But why have the multiple Marshall Plan-like initiatives all failed? The same people have used the same tools to implement the same ideas and have achieved the same result – failure – for far too long. This is where technology can come in and, as always, drive human progress. Technology companies aim to make people's lives easier and better. Technology can help. More specifically, blockchain can help.

Blockchain is no longer limited to representing the basis of cryptocurrency technology. It's time to move on from the gossip and hype surrounding Bitcoin. Blockchain's core feature is its immutability, which means that data stored on the blockchain is safe and secure from retrospective tampering. Data integrity and security have become a reality. But how can blockchain help solve the twin, interrelated issues of refugees and famine?

Simple: it solves the 'lack of identity' issue. Refugees often leave home with nothing but the clothes on their back, and so lack the evidence to prove an officially documented identity. This blank slate often brings with it suspicion. Who knows who this person is? They could be the perpetrator or victim of terrorism or identity theft. Are we helping the criminals or the vulnerable? Blockchain can step in right at the beginning of the process when the world's most vulnerable first enter a refugee camp. An immutable, digital identity backed by a blockchain database, created under UN supervision, would eliminate suspicions directed at these people.

Refugees are not refugees by choice, they are fleeing for one or more reasons. One of these is almost always famine, and here again blockchain can be of assistance.

The World Food Programme has already rolled out blockchain as part of its 'Building Blocks' pilot. The aim is to make cash transfers more efficient, secure, and transparent. The WFP has used blockchain to deliver food assistance more efficiently to 106,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan.

The WFP also initiated a proof-of-concept project in Sindh province, Pakistan, to test the ability of blockchain to authenticate and register beneficiary transactions. The result was that blockchain allowed secure and fast transactions between participants and the WFP.

Blockchain may be an invisible technology, as it operates behind the scenes, but it is also a trustworthy one because no one part of it can be modified without all the other parts knowing about it. Corrupt behavior is more difficult now than at any time in the past.

Versatility is blockchain's biggest asset. There are other possible solutions to identify refugees, and other tools the WFP could use to eradicate famine – but blockchain is the preferred solution because of the trust it can build between institutions and the people they aim to serve. Blockchain is used because, put simply, blockchain works.

About Mihai Ivascu, founder of Modex: 

Mihai Ivascu is a serial social impact and technology entrepreneur, CEO and Founder of London based tech group M3 Holdings which comprises 3 fast-growing companies: Moneymailme, a Neo-Banking technology infrastructure provider; M3 Payments – FX management and global payments platform; Modex Blockchain Database – SaaS technology provider, which in less than 4 years has come to be valued at GBP 250 million.

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