Deborah Harmes, Ph.D.

Prior to the emergence of blockchain technology, mismanagement or third-party theft spirited away at least 30% of the funds that were donated each year to relief efforts. As such, some have turned to this new technology for the handling of humanitarian aid distribution.

In February of 2018, Dorcas – a humanitarian relief agency based in the Netherlands – announced the successful test of blockchain technology as part of their process for distribution of aid. The test run – a cross-border funds transfer of €5,000 to Albania — appeared on the other end almost instantly using a blockchain platform called Disberse. Disberse is committed to the rapid and transparent delivery of funds that have been designated for aid and has a proven track record – working with NGOs, government agencies, and private or corporate donors. In the instance described above, Disberse partnered with the 43-agency group known as the Start Network. Dorcas was the first agency to attempt this type of transfer via blockchain, and as a result of the immediate success, new pilot programs are in the planning stages – programs that would involve larger amounts of funds and the additional participation of other agencies.

Another organisation making positive changes in humanitarian aid through the use of blockchain technology is Aid:Tech. Their platform allows international aid to be distributed, provides QR-coded digital identity cards, and allows fund transfers to be made to individual recipients. These aid recipients may then purchase the items that are necessary for their unique needs. This ground-breaking organisation was the first in the world to use safe and transparent blockchain technology for the delivery of international aid – providing relief to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Set up in two different locations within Lebanon, the success of this project has encouraged other relief agencies to consider following a similar path.

The World Food Programme’s project – Building Blocks – is based in Jordan and has provided cryptocurrency-based food vouchers for over 10,000 refugees. This was initially planned as a one-month pilot project, but its success means that the United Nations has authorised a continuation of the program for an indefinite period of time.

The positive impact these projects have made shows that the transparent and unchangeable safety of blockchain is revolutionary – and necessary – for international aid.