United Nations Uses Technology to Address Worldwide Hunger

Technology innovations enable refugees and other at-risk populations to purchase food without needing bank accounts or passwords. Electronic banking and iris scans ensure proper distribution of benefits, which can be used to shop in local markets, boosting local economies. Organized operational data can improve on-the-ground aid processes.


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Image credit: United Nations World Food Program

Nearly 690 million people went hungry in 2019, according to the World Health Organization, and that number was expected to increase by as much as 130 million by 2020 due to the pandemic. With so many people fighting hunger every day, organizations such as the United Nations’ World Food Program (WFP) are critical to providing food assistance to people in need.

Last year, the WFP won the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to end global hunger, and the organization noted the vast network of partners that make its work possible. Those include more than 4,000 individuals, plus supply chain, distribution, and technology partners.

More Than Food

To help keep track of its 5,000 trucks, 20 ships, and 70 planes, plus a supply chain that extends through 80 countries, the WFP relies on Palantir Technologies’ Foundry platform. Foundry, also used by the US government to monitor the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, collects and analyzes internal and external data to direct food and other aid where it is needed.

In 2019, Palantir and WFP entered a five-year partnership to use Palantir’s technology to improve efficiencies in WFP’s food delivery and monetary assistance programs. The Foundry software platform pulls data from across WFP’s aid efforts and analyzes human needs and dynamic logistics data to streamline relief assistance.

In one pilot program, Foundry extended the capabilities of WFP’s Optimus supply chain database. The Foundry technology collects data sets and analyzes nutritional information, sourcing locations, delivery schedules, and costs of various foods, so WFP leaders can determine which items should be delivered to a given population. By assessing WFP’s food procurement operations, Foundry helped the aid organization save more than $30 million.

The WFP’s mission extends beyond fighting hunger. The group also supplies other humanitarian aid, including medicine, personal protection equipment, and COVID-19 vaccines. Through its Emergency Service Marketplace, the WFP can share data and resources with other relief organizations.


While Foundry helps the WFP better coordinate the delivery of food donations and vouchers, the WFP also distributes e-cards in some refugee camps and villages. The e-cards are similar to a prepaid credit card and allow people to select and purchase their own food in local markets. Each month, WFP can remotely upload funds on the e-card. This approach improves local economies and supports food diversity, while reaching vulnerable people more quickly and effectively.

In Jordan, WFP is using the IrisGuard EyePay Secure Financial Delivery platform to allow Syrian refugees to purchase items at local stores without any cash, cards, or vouchers in hand. The biometric iris scan verifies the purchaser of the items, and confirms the buyer has sufficient funds through a financial gateway from Middle East Payment Services (MEPS), an electronic payment services company. The EyePay point-of-service platform uses the Ethereum blockchain to process transactions in real time.

To begin, IrisGuard collects a greyscale image of the iris of each buyer. The image is converted to a template used for cross-referencing and creates a Unique Verifiable Identity (UVI) for each individual. Unlike other biometrics, the iris remains stable throughout a person’s lifespan, so only one iris scan is needed to enroll in the system. EyePay uses iris scans to allow cash withdrawals from ATMs, blockchain transactions through cryptocurrency, and voucher-free payments in local markets.

man in front of device that is testing his iris

Image credit: IrisGuard

IrisGuard works with the United Nations’ refugee organizations in multiple countries to enable financial transactions for individuals with no bank or bank accounts and to protect users from theft.

The WFP’s stated goal of Zero Hunger by 2030 is lofty, and the COVID-19 pandemic set it back, but the group hasn’t lost sight of its mission. Fortunately, it has technology partners committed to helping the WFP provide food assistance to struggling families across the world.

Using Tech in the Fight Against Hunger


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