Ethereum Blockchain in Jordan Is Changing How the United Nations Delivers Aid
Distributing aid within areas of conflict, especially those ruled by unstable authoritarian governments, has proven to be a struggle for organizations like the United Nations. These efforts are often plagued by a myriad of issues, such as the distribution of funds to individuals by relief agencies. The Ethereum blockchain in Jordan is shifting the paradigm.

Blockchain technologies, cryptocurrencies and digital banking, however, have the potential to alleviate many of these complications. On May 31, 2017, the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) completed the first successful large-scale trial of the Ethereum blockchain in Jordan to distribute humanitarian aid to Syria.

In order to fully understand the tangible effects that blockchain technology has on the lives of these individuals, it is first necessary to establish a basic background of what exactly this new platform is and what it can do.

Ethereum essentially lends itself to decentralized data recording, meaning that no single person or entity owns the final ledger. Instead, everyone who participates in the network becomes part of the record keeping process.

Blockchain, the technology behind the infamous cryptocurrency Bitcoin as well as Ethereum, has many other applications past transferring money between parties. Like Bitcoin, Ethereum acts as a distributed public blockchain network. However, while Bitcoin’s main application involves peer-to-peer exchange of payments, Ethereum blockchain focuses on both cryptocurrency, called Ether, as well as deploying decentralized applications. These applications generally contain smart contracts: computer codes that facilitate the exchange of money, content, property or anything else of value.

Ethereum offers an unprecedented capacity to carry out nonspecific applications, meaning that instead of just offering peer-to-peer transfer of digital currencies, Ethereum enables the development of potentially thousands of different applications on a single platform. Additionally, hacking and fraudulent activities are virtually impossible on a decentralized network like Ethereum.

Ethereum has many widespread applications, one of which includes legal identification. With current estimates suggesting that there are 1.1 billion people around the world with no official documentation, many of whom are refugees, aid organizations struggle to provide health, financial and educational services without proper identification.

While smartphones or Internet-capable devices are an obvious access point for the identification platform, the project implemented by the WFP was built under the assumption that its beneficiaries might not have access to such luxuries. Instead, the WFP made it possible for thousands of Syrian refugees to pay with a scan of their eyes using the Ethereum blockchain in Jordan.

In this month-long trial, instead of administering funds directly to the recipients, the WFP issued unspecified amounts of cryptocurrency-based vouchers to thousands of Syrian refugees. The U.N. allocated money to the merchants of participating stores where the coupons could be redeemed, effectively cutting out the banking middlemen in the aid distribution processes. Iris recognition devices verified the identities of the refugees at the supermarket in the Azraq camp in Jordan and deducted what they spent from the total sum the WFP provided.

By the end of May 2017, the Ethereum blockchain in Jordan was successfully used to record and authenticate transfers to about 10,000 individuals. WFP consultant Alexandra Alden helped oversee the implementation of this project and stated, “All funds received by the refugees from WFP were specifically used to purchase food items such as olive oil, pasta, and lentils.”


The Future of Ethereum Blockchain in Jordan and Beyond


In terms of future expansion, the WFP intends to include upwards of 100,000 individuals in Jordan in the program as early as August 2017, with hopes of serving the entire Jordanian refugee population by the end of 2018. If this expansion proves successful, the agency will look to expand beyond Jordan to other countries in need of aid.

Additionally, companies including Accenture and Microsoft have been working to design a more comprehensive digital ID network for the U.N. using blockchain technology.

Instead of just receiving food from local merchants, this identification network will provide undocumented refugees with unique identifiers called “stamps” that authenticate services received at camps or through other agencies, such as vaccinations. This system of record keeping will be tested in the near future.

While blockchain technology has the potential to serve the rest of society in various capacities, Ethereum offers those individuals who have been forced to renounce their identities over and over again the possibility of retaining important parts of who they are.

Richa Bijlani

Photo: Flickr

Egypt ended its flirtation with democracy and completed its turn back towards a military-dominated political order this week, as the country’s armed forces chief resigned and announced that he would stand for president. The move by Field Marshall Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt’s defense minister and military chief, came in the same week that a court sentenced 529 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the recently outlawed Islamist movement, to death in a case that underscored the governments authoritarian nature since the coup that ousted Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically president.

Sisi, who spearheaded the coup that toppled Morsi, announced in his resignation as armed forces chief in a nationally televised speech Wednesday, saying that he, “will always be proud of wearing the uniform of defending my country.” Moments later, Sisi announced his presidential bid, characterizing his decision to run for Egypt’s highest offices as, “answering the demand of a wide range of Egyptians who have called on me to run for president, to attain this honor.”

After leaving his post as armed forces commander-in-chief on Wednesday, Sisi tendered his resignation as defense minister during a Thursday cabinet meeting in which General Sedki Sobhi was named as Sisi’s replacement for both the military chief and defense minister posts.

Sisi’s widely expected announcement that he would stand for president in an election he is expected to easily win seemed to complete Egypt’s turn back toward the military-led political order that characterized the six decades of Egyptian governance after King Farouk was toppled in a 1952 coup spearheaded by Mohammad Naguib and Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Nasser would go on to serve as president from 1956 until his death in 1970, only to be replaced by another military man, Anwar el-Sadat. After Sadat was assassinated by radical Islamists in October 1981, Hosni Mubarak, the former commander of the air force, became president, continuing the post-1952 trend of presidents drawn from the armed forces. Mubarak went on to serve as president for close to three decades, ruling until massive demonstrations forced him from power in February 2011.

After 16 months of military rule following Mubarak’s removal, Morsi, an Islamist backed by the Brotherhood, was elected president, becoming Egypt’s first freely elected leader and the only president in the country’s history who did not serve in the military. Morsi, who was a member of the Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist group, at the time of his election, was also modern Egypt’s first Islamist president.

In the lead up to the July 3 popularly-backed coup that ousted Morsi, severe fuel shortages caused long lines at gas stations across Egypt, enraging motorists, as a sharp decline in the Egyptian Pound led to skyrocketing domestic prices. Meanwhile, Egypt’s foreign exchange reserves, which the country’s central bank uses to prop up the pound, had fallen to about $15 billion, down from $36 billion when Mubarak was toppled.

Massive demonstrations in late June and early July led the military to step in and seize power. Since the July coup, the military has unleashed a brutal crackdown targeting the Brotherhood, which has now been outlawed and designated as a terrorist organization. The Islamist groups’ assets have been seized, while its leaders, including Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, have been imprisoned.

Egypt’s post-Morsi authoritarian state began to take shape in late November, when the country’s military-backed government promulgated a new law imposing draconian restrictions on demonstrations, including giving the Interior Ministry, an institution known for its aversion to civil liberties, blanket authority to ban, postpone or move protests. And then in January, Egyptian voters overwhelmingly approved a new constitution that grants the military wide-ranging powers, including the authority to appoint the defense minister for the next eight years. The new charter, drafted by a constituent assembly whose composition the military helped to shape, mandates that the defense minister must be an active member of the armed forces and creates a legal framework for trying civilians in military courts.

With the announcement that the country’s now former military chief will run for president in an election that he is likely to easily win, Egypt’s turn towards authoritarianism seems to have transformed into a headfirst leap.

-Eric Erdahl

Photo: Ed Week
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