Three Reasons Why Blockchain Could Help Provide Humanitarian Aid Across the World

January 29, 2019

Blockchain technology presents a wide array of benefits for a variety of industries. However, many of these benefits are difficult, if not impossible to see, at least in the technology’s early stages. It is for this reason that the technology needs to be applied in sectors where quantifiable results are produced.

This year alone, the world has witnessed the damaging effects natural disasters can have on communities. For those who are ill-equipped to recover quickly, they are left at the doorstep of global humanitarian aid organizations for assistance.

Most recently, the world was taken by storm as we watched three California wildfires demolish more than 200,000 acres of property and more than 10,000 structures, leaving an approximate death toll of 66 people.

But, let’s take a look back over the past few months:

  • Last month, Florida experienced the wrath and devastation caused by Hurricane Michael;
  • In September, the Carolinas were  struck by Hurricane Florence with 24 hours of torrential rain and hurricane winds up to 90 mph;
  • Last year, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, opening the doors to more than $25 billion in aid, and is gradually rebuilding; and
  • With more than 2 million people affected by the earthquakes and tsunamis out in Indonesia, emergency officials worked in rescuing those individuals still alive and buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings and debris.

As officials across the world work tirelessly to provide assistance to those affected by natural disasters, they are still at a disadvantage when it comes to providing quick, efficient supply runs, as they are only human.

While blockchain technology might not be able to prevent natural disasters, it can help to minimize its damaging impacts, by identifying those communities in need and providing quick, efficient humanitarian aid. The aftermath of many of these disasters is only an incentive for places like developed countries like the United States and developing countries like Indonesia, to become a hub for blockchain technology.

#1  Implementing Policies Through Smart Contracts

One of the major issues for consumers, and even organizations donating funds for humanitarian relief is the reassurance that those funds actually reach their intended destination.

Smart contract technology can address this, through its algorithms designed to track and trace the virtual identity and location of where funds are at any given point. Most importantly, the smart contract is the self-governing mechanism to help determine whether or not to transfer funds from Location A to Location B—if one event does not happen, then the resulting action does not occur.

While not successful, UNICEF, the UN agency that is designed to provide emergency food and healthcare to children in countries devastated by natural disasters, attempted to implement the technology in efforts of minimizing further national crisis,  in late 2017. It brought certain blockchain experts together with a mission of establishing a “smart contract” that would run based off certain triggering events, helping to facilitate transactions between organizations and countries in need. While faced with certain difficulties in implementing the technology, the agency is still yearning for innovative maturity with the Blockchain.

Theoretically, this technology could be used to identify and trace contributions from organization to organization.

It would have the ability to reduce transaction costs, minimize corruption by making all the information transparent and visible, and providing for a better record of where humanitarian relief is being provided.

#2 Respecting Privacy Interests

When it comes to managing and maintaining an effective and efficient supply chain, location is everything. The ability to identify the specific location or GPS coordinates of an item(s) as it moves across the chain, is imperative in staying connected to products and services until it finally reaches the consumer.

Yet, in a year of what seems like the most damaging data breaches, identify theft and other invasive attacks, we have all learned that to better protect our privacy, we need to control who manages and controls our data, at all times.  

If there’s anything we’ve learned from these unfortunate natural disasters it’s that the world needs to know when and where communities are in need. Utilizing location-based services on-chain can provide those government agencies and financial institutions with the ability to track specific goods or items.  

But, with any technology, privacy is always key. Location-based services opens the user to potential vulnerabilities. For example, these systems must cope with fake and missing location identifiers, caused by users on virtual private networks (VPNs), web-proxies, TOR networks, GPS spoofing apps and other ad-blockers.

But, if anything is evident, it’s that we want to be in control of our own information.

That’s where Proof of Location (PoL) protocols come into play. A PoL protocol has the potential to transform every industry, from retail to ride-sharing and from supply chains to the disintermediation of large-scale international humanitarian relief efforts.

Applying this specifically to humanitarian aid, imagine if cryptocurrencies could be commercially “airdropped” on selected communities in need and those populations affected by natural disasters.

One Israeli company, Platin, utilizes PoL to help strengthen and provide a mature digital infrastructure for its users by providing a means to “air-drop” humanitarian aid.

“By disintermediating middlemen, the technology can provide for direct distribution aid in real-time, ensuring a fair and even distribution of supplies,” said Dr. Lionel Wolberger, Co-Founder and CTO at Platin.

Wolberger, having worked for more than years with Cisco Secure Video, has a strong background in the internet identity space. According to Platin’s CTO, blockchain technology could really provide a strong backbone for humanitarian aid by:

  • Minimizing and preventing waste—unclaimed cryptocurrencies would revert back to the original senders;
  • Avoiding issues of hoarding—blockchain policies can enforce throttling, rate limiting, and per wallet limitations; and
  • Injecting overall fairness –bad actors would be prohibited from siphoning off funds before they can reach those in need.

“The Platin Protocol is standards-compliant to integrate into the current world of geospacial activity and location-based services, paying mind to regulations like GDPR,” Wolberger said.

But, what’s most interesting about this company is its strides to provide humanitarian aid, through its taskforce. Currently, it has signed letters of intent with humanitarian organizations to air drop crypto assets on needy communities and those affected by natural disasters and catastrophic events, such as economic collapse, earthquakes, famine, and many other events.

“The Puerto Rico disaster, like most, enabled many bad actors to siphon off humanitarian aid and funds before they can reach the needy,” Wolberger emphasized. Already a cryptographic expert, Wolberger has worked for many years deploying cryptographically secured multi-million-dollar systems for Fortune 100 companies such as Cisco, Cox, MTV, QVC and many other leading enterprises in India, China and Europe.

“Our platform will help to make the location space more mature and enable a mutually beneficial proposition for service providers and consumers of location-based services.”

Pharmaceuticals and Food Safety

In the pharmaceutical industry, counterfeiting is a huge problem. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), counterfeiting costs the industry more than $30 billion. Blockchain technology can track and trace the journey of an individual dose of medicine from its manufacturing stage to its final destination with the consumer. Ultimately, this could significantly reduce the potential for patient health hazards.

Earlier this year, Walmart and IBM took food safety to a whole new level with its partnership. After the wake of the E. coli outbreak, Walmart decided it wasn’t taking a risk in selling potentially dangerous and infected foods to its consumers. Therefore, its requiring all of its suppliers harvesting “greens” and other food items to record their harvesting and distribution information onto the Blockchain, with the help of IBM’s Watson.

According to Frank Yiannas, formerly the vice president of food safety for Walmart, the company had a hefty process in identifying potential hazards.

“In Walmart’s case, our Food Safety Division must contact the supplier, obtain paper records, and utilize those records to contact the specific company that imported and/or shipped that product to our distribution center.”

Yiannas was recently named the FDA’s newest deputy commissioner for food supply and response.

It is time for the world to help one another out, and the best way of doing so, without physically being present, is connecting with one another through the powerful tools available to it—technology.

Andrew Rossow is a millennial internet attorney who writes on cybersecurity, law, and technology. You can follow his work on Facebook, Instagram, and through his #CYBERBYTE series.

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