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3 Game-Changing Innovations for Refugees in Jordan

The United Nations is harnessing technology and innovation to better support refugees

May 17, 2018

This article has been cross-posted from the United Nations Foundation. View the original article and images.

UN Leverages Innovation to Deliver for Refugees

Displacement is currently at the world’s highest recorded levels, with more than 65 million people forced from their homes by conflict, violence, and persecution. Over 740,000 refugees - mostly fleeing from violence in Syria - are registered in Jordan.

Forced from homes, accessing basic services like food, water, and electricity can be a challenge. The United Nations and partners are leveraging technology to better deliver urgent services for refugees living in camps and urban areas in Jordan. From blockchain-enabled iris scanning to solar power, the UN's commitment to innovation allows for more effective, timely, and coordinated responses to today's most pressing global challenges.

Innovation #1: Solar Power Saves Money and Improves Lives

The largest solar plant ever built in a refugee camp – the size of 33 football fields – powers the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Before the solar plant, energy was expensive and less reliable, with families only able to use electricity for 6-8 hours a day.

The benefits of the solar plant are far-reaching: The plant provides 12 to 14 hours of power per day, which allows children to study at night, families to more safely walk in the camp, food to stay fresh longer, and more. It also cuts carbon emissions (the equivalent of 30,000 barrels of oil) and energy costs, saving the UN half a million U.S. dollars per month. The solar plant also creates job opportunities by employing Syrian refugees who live in Za’atari.

This green technology is run by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency dedicated to building better futures for the millions forced from home.

Innovation #2: Grocery Shopping Made Easier Through Iris Scanning

When refugees first arrive in Jordan, they register with the UN for services that are critical to establishing life in a new country, such as health care and financial assistance. Data is stored on a secure electronic system that is shared by multiple UN agencies and can only be accessed by each individual through iris scan technology - this ensures that each person can access the services they need in a secure, easy, and efficient way.

This cutting-edge iris scan technology is also used in Za'atari, where all of the camp's 80,000 residents can shop for groceries at the Tazweed Supermarket without needing cash or food stamps. With the blink of an eye, accounts are verified and people can purchase food. The iris scan system also allows for greater empowerment and dignity. While refugees in Za’atari have endured hardship, grocery shopping with ease and security can help restore a sense of normalcy.

The Tazweed Supermarket is run by the World Food Programme, the UN agency dedicated to ending hunger that serves 80 million people each year.

Innovation #3: Far-Reaching Infrastructure for Health and Sanitation

In humanitarian emergencies and crises, a major priority is preventing disease outbreaks through fresh water and waste disposal systems. Without these in place, the risk of cholera, diarrhea, and other health threats is severe and puts children at particular risk. In Za’atari, the UN is installing a far-reaching water network that connects 14,000 households throughout the camp to ensure that each family can access uncontaminated water. Sustainable water goes hand-in-hand with sanitation; throughout the camp, the UN is installing toilets and pump systems to better dispose of waste and ensure that children and families are protected from disease.

The water, sanitation, and hygiene work in Za’atari is run by UNICEF, the UN agency that defends the rights of children and young people globally.

Tackling Big Problems Through Innovation

Innovation - from iris scanning to solar power - helps the UN provide better services for refugees as they rebuild their lives in Jordan. By adopting new technology in Jordan and around the world, the UN is improving its effectiveness in responding to the pressing global challenges of today and tomorrow, creating a better world for future generations.

To learn more and get involved, sign UNHCR’s petition and tell the world you stand #WithRefugees.