A Branch of the UN Just Launched Its First Large-Scale Ethereum Test

Starting today, the UN will begin distributing funds to thousands of people in Jordan via the ethereum blockchain.

AccessTimeIconMay 1, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 1:17 p.m. UTC
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Starting today, the United Nations (UN) will begin distributing funds to thousands of people in Jordan as part of a trial using the ethereum blockchain.

For the next month, cryptographically unique coupons representing an undisclosed number of Jordanian dinars will be sent to dozens of shops in five refugee camps across the nation. Then, instead of using a smartphone or a paper wallet to access the funds, recipients will rely on yet another emerging technology.

Eye-scanning hardware made by London-based IrisGuard, already in place to verify the identity of some of the 500,000 recipients currently receiving traditional aid, is being repurposed to grant access to coupons.

Multiple cashiers at each of the shops will then use technology co-developed by the WFP Innovation Accelerator, ethereum development startup Parity Technologies and blockchain big data firm Datarella to redeem the entitlements at the point of checkout.

From the ground up, the solution was designed to scale, not just within Jordan, but beyond its borders to some of the 80 other countries served by the UN's World Food Programme (WFP).

Datarella founder Michael Reuter told CoinDesk:

"This product wouldn't make much sense if it only worked in the Jordanian refugee camps alone. It should work in other environments."

Blockchain aid

Built with the ethereum client developed by Gavin Wood's Parity Technologies (previously called Ethcore), the Jordanian coupon project will see a total of more than 10,000 people receiving funds, according to WFP financial officer, Houman Haddad.

From there, the WFP hopes to expand to 100,000 people in Jordan in August, with the entire Jordanian refugee population receiving aid by the end of next year.

Whereas blockchain itself includes widespread promise for advancing the way we prove our identities, this project was built under the assumption that its users might not have access to a smartphone or internet device that could someday power these solutions.

In the meantime, identity is being verified by IrisGuard, which the UN has been using to serve Syrian refugees in Jordan since last October. Previously, IrisGuard was powered by Jordan Ahli Bank and its counterpart Middle East Payment Services.

To ensure the current aid program progresses without interruption from the blockchain project, multiple contingency plans are in place should the system fail in this first live application, though the details of those contingency plans are not being revealed until after the test.

Future expansion

But while the ethereum application being launched today appears to be the most advanced effort being conducted by a division within the UN, it is not the only effort.

Last week, CoinDesk reported on an early-stage effort spearheaded by the UN Office for Project Services, consisting of a potential pan-organizational effort involving a total of seven agencies.

Though future efforts are only in the development phase, Reuter said the current project was built to make it easily adopted in other nations as well.

He concluded:

"I’m totally excited seeing what is possible within a very, very short time-range, with a client like the UN. I never had thought that it would be possible to do what we are starting."

Refugee in Jordan image via Shutterstock


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