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

Michael del Castillo

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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."




Ethereum is a  decentralized platform that runs smart contracts: applications that run exactly as programmed without any possibility of downtime, censorship, fraud or third party interference.

These apps run on a custom built  blockchain, an enormously powerful shared global infrastructure that can move value around and represent the ownership of property. This enables developers to create markets, store registries of debts or promises, move funds in accordance with instructions given long in the past (like a will or a futures contract) and many other things that have not been invented yet, all without a middle man or counterparty risk.

The project was bootstraped via an ether pre-sale during August 2014 by fans all around the world. It is developed by the  Ethereum Foundation, a Swiss nonprofit, with contributions from great minds across the globe.



What is a 'Blockchain'

A blockchain is a public ledger of all Bitcoin transactions that have ever been executed. It is constantly growing as ‘completed’ blocks are added to it with a new set of recordings. The blocks are added to the blockchain in a linear, chronological order. Each node (computer connected to the Bitcoin network using a client that performs the task of validating and relaying transactions) gets a copy of the blockchain, which gets downloaded automatically upon joining the Bitcoin network. The blockchain has complete information about the addresses and their balances right from the genesis block to the most recently completed block.