Deborah Harmes, Ph.D.

NOREPS – the Norwegian Emergency Preparedness System – has been a strong cheerleader for the use of blockchain technology in humanitarian relief. As an early adopter with a proven history of this use, NOREPS held a 36-hour-long hackathon, jointly hosted in Oslo and Trondheim, that focused on providing a secure digital identity for refugees.  Following the success of the hackathon, NOREPS was recently invited to Denmark to address the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs about the process of using this type of technology. The result was a comprehensive report on how to best use both new-tech and development funds in these rapidly changing times.

The report – Hack The Future of Development Aid – was a joint project of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the virtual currency platform Coinify, and the Danish think tank Sustainia. This timely report emphasises several concepts, in particular the need to take advantage of the speed and safety of blockchain-related currency transfers and record keeping. Other concepts include the following:

  • the speed of funds transfer comparing standard methods vs crypto transfers
  • the improvement of the marketplace for small-scale farmers and rural entrepreneurs
  • the examination of other ways of creating sustainable development including the encouragement of start-ups and other innovation
  • the development of the future for ‘off the radar’ people who are undocumented by providing digital identity and land registry that is always accessible through blockchain records on their mobile phone
  • the reduction of risk of misdirected funds or outright corruption
  • the transition from paper contracts to smart contracts that can trigger funds to be released after specific targets have been achieved
  • the direction of issues of distributed governance by encouraging fair and equitable participation by the people it is meant to assist
  • the leading of the way in the recognition of human rights
  • the encouragement of positive solutions for Sustainable Development Goals
  • the creation of an aid ecosystem that replaces the old aid distribution model

Similarly a recent article from the SmartProjex group detailed some of the challenges that are faced by humanitarian relief groups – especially those working in the field – that may be improved through the use of blockchain smart contracts. Here are some of the obstacles covered in the article:

  • the need to verify the accuracy of smart contracts prior to sending supplies
  • ensuring that essential items such as vaccines are sent on schedule and to the correct parties through blockchain verification
  • communication issues from unstable or unavailable mobile or internet reception
  • disruption from local or governmental sources in the target country
  • time delays due to weather or warfare
  • specific issues arising from the use of unpaid volunteers including lack of email response
  • untrained volunteers who have little technical knowledge

As shown in the report and article, blockchain has the potential for improving many lives, especially for those in need of aid.