Technology and Humanitarian Assistance: The Refugee Crisis

Sylvana Lewin, Tuesday November 7th 2017

Technology is changing the way the world works, allowing us to conquer global problems in ways we couldn't have imagined even a few years ago. Dutch inventor Daan Roosegaarde is working to purify our cities’ air through his Smog Free Tower. Sign Aloud, a project created by two University of Washington undergraduate students, allows sign language to be converted into speech through the use of built in sensors in gloves that recognize hand movement and deliver data wirelessly to a computer.

AI has become so advanced that we now have innovations like Shelley, the world’s first collaborative AI Horror Writer. Recently a robot named Sophia was even granted citizenship in Saudi Arabia.

However, technology isn’t just being used for commercial purposes. Today tech is also being applied to humanitarian issues around the world. Whether it be the world refugee crisis, global poverty, education, or health, technology is changing the way organizations tackle these issues. Starting this week, we’ll be taking a look at some of the exciting innovations happening in technology for humanitarian assistance.

One of the most significant humanitarian issues facing the world today is the refugee crisis. According to UNHCR, there are currently 65.6 million displaced persons, the highest amount ever seen, and 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. As this crisis grows, relief organizations are changing their approach and focusing on developing innovative, tech-based solutions.

International Rescue Committee: Airbel Center

In an unprecedented move, the IRC launched a research and development lab, the Airbel Center, in 2016. Airbel works to design, test, and scale solutions for problems surrounding education, employment, malnutrition, cash, violence prevention, and early childhood development. Current projects include the adaptation of parenting programs for children displaced by the Syrian conflict, looking at how telecommunication can be used to prevent intimate partner violence in Liberia, and much more.

World Food Program: Building Blocks Project

We’re in the midst of a massive explosion in blockchain technologies and cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin, Ripple, and more are changing the way the system works. Using cryptocurrency has several benefits including better security, cutting out the middleman, and universal recognition. More and more businesses are accepting bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as forms of payment. As the use of cryptocurrency gains more and more popularity in the developing world, companies are exploring this technology to overcome long-standing obstacles in the developing world due to its decentralized nature. Currently the WFP is testing the use of blockchain technology in the fight against hunger. They believe blockchain could offer humanitarian agencies the opportunity to provide more effective assistance. The WFP Building Blocks Project aims to make cash-based transfer operations faster, cheaper, and more secure. The project is being piloted at Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, where more than 10,000 Syrian refugees are now redeeming their WFP provided assistance through the blockchain-based system.

[caption id="attachment_5759" align="aligncenter" width="665"] photo: WFP/Alexandra Alden[/caption]


IrisGuard has developed technology that uses the varied characteristics of the human iris to deliver accurate biometric personal identification solutions. Their EyePay Platform is transforming the way cash and food assistance is delivered to refugees.

The platform utilizes iris recognition as the single payment modality for purchases, without requiring a card, pin, phone, or token. It can be used in both banks and blockchain channels. UNHCR, the WFP, UNICEF, and the IOM are all using the EyePay Platform as a way to provide legal digital identities, cash, food and non-food based assistance to vulnerable refugees in the Middle East and Africa.

From using blockchain technology to provide assistance to Syrian refugees in Jordan to using biometrics as a personal identification solution, technology is changing the way organizations look at the refugee crisis. Technology touches every industry. Continue to explore how technology is changing humanitarian assistance with us as we continue this series!