With Hurricane Florence ravaging the East Coast and more tropical storms and hurricanes brewing around the world, now is the perfect time to discuss disaster relief. Specifically, how e-currency can be used to help those affected by cutting through red tape and greatly decreasing the time needed for victims to receive aid.
Managing donations can be a challenging part of disaster relief for response teams and organizations. Well-intended donations can go to waste, and monetary donations may not make it to the affected populations. It takes a massive amount of planning and coordination just to collect and distribute supplies and aid. This is where e-currency comes in.
E-currency is perfect for disaster relief. It’s decentralized and can go anywhere — much like travelling and using e-currency like Bitcoin — which makes it easy to simply transfer into an account, allowing victims to immediately use the money. This, of course, supposes they already have a digital wallet. What if they have never used e-currency?
That’s where Telecoin comes into play. The company has already worked out a plan to spring into action during disasters. The short version is simple: cell phones.
In general, cell phone towers are the first thing to be repaired in a disaster. This enables communication, which is vital to disaster relief efforts. If repairs are not needed, but electricity is out, most have backup batteries or generators.
The company digitally fences off the affected area, known as geo-fencing, and uses the towers to equally distribute, or airdrop, digital currency into mobile money wallets. It doesn’t require a smartphone — just a cell phone with an account.
The idea of using e-currency for use in disaster relief has already been put into effect. In May 2017, the United Nations used Ethereum to aid 10,000 Syrian refugees via its World Food Programme. The Ethereum vouchers could be redeemed at participating markets. The project hopes to expand to serve all Jordanian refugees as well by the end of 2018. The Syrian refugee effort was led by Ethereum co-founder Gavin Wood and Datarella, a blockchain big data firm.
Meanwhile, Bitnation was providing Blockchain Emergency IDs and Bitnation Bitcoin Visa Cards to the refugees. This gave refugees an easy way to identify themselves and enabled them to use a debit card, using Bitcoin through the traditional Visa card network, to pay for goods. It could also be used at ATMs to withdraw traditional fiat cash. Otherwise, a bank was not needed to pay.
Later that year, in August, Hurricane Harvey smashed into Houston, Texas. The hurricane, as a whole, tied with 2005’s Katrina for the costliest hurricane at nearly $125 billion.
Enter the Cherch of Blerk, an unlikely combination of a cryptocurrency-based 501(c)(3) and formally recognized religion. Though the heads of the group travelled to Houston to personally help, their truck broke down. In order to keep rendering aid, they liquidated some crypto assets and were able to continue providing aid. Banks were facing reduced hours and stymied operations due to a massive disaster. The e-currency, not needing to rely on a bank, came through. A traditional wire transfer would have taken five more days to arrive.
Because e-currency handled through a blockchain, all transactions are transparent and traceable. It cuts red tape, as donations through major disaster relief companies are often mired in fees or general mishandling. The Economist noted that it’s not unusual that, in the chaos of rebuilding and repairing, much of the donated relief funds can be stolen. It could be scams or locals posing as helpers, but goods and money can go unaccounted for and never be seen by those in need.
Protecting against cybercrime is extremely important when dealing with disaster aid. With traditional bank accounts, clever cybercriminals can use social engineering to trick already overworked volunteers into giving away information that leads to compromised accounts and then leads to stolen donations. With the blockchain, everything is tracked. It’s easy to see which wallet the money is transferred to.
E-currency provides a secure, fast, transparent way to transfer funds to areas suffering from a disaster. It allows aid to be rendered much more easily than relying on banks and traditional methods of transferring money to victims. It’s already been put to use, but it has not quite attained widespread use. With major hurricanes already making landfall, this could change soon.