The Syrian civil war remains the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of WWII.

As a result, the UN formed partnerships with startups and big corporates to trial blockchain technology and assist 11 million displaced people. Their goal is to tackle global problems by removing banks as intermediaries and create digital identities for Syrian refugees.

Building Blocks Project using blockchain to replace banks

Traditionally, donations to refugees go through a financial third party, like a bank. The bank sets up virtual accounts and provides credit for the refugees.  

The Building Blocks Project’s (BBP) goal is to replace the bank as the intermediary using blockchain technology.

Through an interview with the Huffington Post, Houman Haddad, the regional CBT Advisor for United Nations WFP Program stated that this project reduced the total cost from their financial service provider by 98 percent.

For the ethereum blockchain to work, though, it requires some form of verification.

The blockchain system needs to see that the purchaser has access to money that belongs to them. Building Blocks solves this problem by using IrisGuard, an iris scanning technology that scans an individual’s eye instead of requiring a password.

When an individual purchases goods, their iris is scanned and verified. The blockchain receives the information, validates the data, and records the purchase.

The Building Blocks Project was implemented in a refugee camp in Jordan called Azraq. The trial proved to be a great success. Haddad and the WFP are looking to expand this technology into other camps with the aim to reach 100,000 before the end of 2017.

Big corporates working together

During times of crisis, it is hard for refugees to prove who they are. This lack of documentation is a serious problem considering 70 percent of refugees lack basic identity documents.

Without an identity, refugees cannot access essential services such as education, finance, and healthcare. Before the blockchain, there was no clear solution to this problem.

Recently, Accenture and Microsoft collaborated with the UN to use blockchain technology to help refugees retain their identity. Their first prototype is called United Nations ID2020 and is a tool that uses biometric data (fingerprint or iris scan) to create a permanent identity.

The Digital ID Network allows individuals to access their personal information wherever they are. This gives the ability to prove their identity without relying on verification from institutions or governments. A refugee can, therefore, verify their identity and qualify for aid at a refugee camp.

Refugees settling into a new country could use blockchain ID systems to retrieve previous education records, for instance. The global blockchain network could enable millions of refugees to prove who they are and where they came from.

Logistics and Supplies

Every day, helper ship vital resources and goods to refugee camps. The traceability and transparency of resources, however, is not always clear. The UN’s plan to improve the logistics of resources using blockchain will provide real-time knowledge and increase security by decreasing fraud, waste or abuse in the supply chain.

With most companies losing 5 percent of revenues to supply chain fraud, the UN sees significant benefits for using blockchain to verify supplies. Live tracking, for instance, helps with verification. This feature would dramatically reduce time delays, additional costs, and human error.

Live tracking also helps identify missing or replaced goods in the supply chain. Furthermore, tracking vital supplies such as food, water and medicine enable easier identification and access to individuals that require further attention.

Blockchain is a technology that has nearly endless real-life applications. In the Syrian refugee crisis, it has replaced the banks and is on track to create a global digital identification system for refugees. From finance to identification and logistics, blockchain has become a technology that potentially will power the future of humanitarian aid.


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