2019 Humanitarian Assistance Review

Blockchain as a tool in humanitarian action – a brief overview of potential uses

Anna Bäckman

The existing initiatives using blockchain technology in humanitarian aid are few and at an early stage. The potential of blockchain should nevertheless be considered seriously. It can, for example, be used within financial means, reducing administrative costs, but also handing over ownership to refugees by using the technology in cash transfer programmes and as an identity insurer.

This working paper discusses the possible potential of using blockchain technology in the humanitarian system to facilitate aid. It starts with a brief overview of the system of today followed by an introduction to blockchain technology and how it might make humanitarian aid more efficient, transparent and accountable.

Main findings

  • Ongoing projects on blockchain in humanitarian aid are mostly focusing on transactions, such as cash transfer programmes and funding.
  • Blockchain gives opportunities to improve ownership, accountability and transparency.
  • Blockchain comes with a lot of requirements, which are not always realistic in fragile and conflict situations – such as internet connectivity.
  • Transactions of existing aid initiatives could profit from using the technology to save money and deliver a more secure and efficient aid.
  • More research is needed to fully understand its potential and impact in the humanitarian sector. Whether it would outcompete current aid organisations is hard to tell.

Anna Bäckman, Assistant Programme Manager, EBA