COVID-19 makes WFP’s work more urgent and more complex than ever. Already mobilizing to meet the needs of up to 138 million people, the organization must now also rise to meet the demands of the biggest humanitarian response in its history – a pandemic that could simultaneously double the number of people suffering from acute hunger and multiply the logistic challenges to reach them. To continue protecting the wellbeing of our staff, delivering vital assistance and supporting the humanitarian community through logistics services, WFP is overcoming those challenges by combining learnings from past experiences, such as Ebola, with innovative approaches, technologies and digital transformation.
The family in this video is fictitious, but the problems and solutions are not. Here, you can learn more about the innovations and technology allowing WFP to maintain operations and to step up to COVID-19.
[This informal briefing was adapted for the 75th Session of the UN General Assembly providing an overview of innovation and technology in WFP’s COVID-19 response]
Voices from the Field
Streamlining humanitarian assistance
Blockchain technology is making it possible for 600,000 refugees across Jordan and Bangladesh to safely collect assistance from WFP and other humanitarian organizations in one go. Swapping fingerprint identification for a digital QR code avoids any need for people to touch devices.
WFP e-Shop & home delivery
WFP Somalia developed an app that allows families to redeem their cash assistance and order food, including home delivery. It gives families real-time market information and fosters price transparency across retailers, ensuring nutritious food is accessible to all. Since the launch of the home delivery component of the e-Shop, almost 40,000 successful home deliveries have been made supporting 240,000 beneficiaries. In the month of August alone, more than 4,000 home deliveries were made to over 25, 000 beneficiaries.
Nutrition in Algeria - Refugee Chef’s TV Show
"Make great things from less" is a TV show produced and moderated by Sahrawi refugees in the Tindouf refugee camps in western Algeria. Since 2011, the presenter, Madame Haha, has shared simple, tasty, varied and nutritious recipes for the food distributed in the camps. With the threat of COVID-19 , the show has also played an important role in educating people about hygiene and how healthy eating helps boost immune systems.
In Iraq, WFP is working with food shops in camps for displaced and refugee families to accept new “cashless” payments through mobile phones. This new solution - like MPESA, Apple or Android Pay - reduces the need for handling banknotes and helps avoid the need for people to move around more than necessary. What started as a COVID-19 mitigation measure has resulted in a first for the country’s humanitarian community.
Honduras - school meals during COVID-19
School closures in Honduras to prevent the spread of COVID-19 stopped the distribution of hot meals for 1.2 million children. Honduran authorities took action to allow students to continue receiving their food, involving local authorities, WFP and UNICEF, parents and teachers.
Tracking & informing decisions for school meals
The mass closure of schools means that nearly 370 million children are missing out on school meals, often their only meal of the day. WFP is tracking the global impact of school closures on schoolchildren through the Global School Feeding Map, shaping the response and sharing critical data with key stakeholders, including partner governments and donors, to help inform decision-making.
Chatbot helplines delivering vital information
The WFP-led Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC) is using helpline chatbots enriched by machine learning to provide easy access to accurate health and safety information. A chatbot is an artificial intelligence-based computer programme or a text or voice conversation with a human being. Citizens in Iraq, Libya and the Central African Republic will be able to call and ask questions such as, "Where can I get tested for COVID-19?", "Where is the closest medical center?"
Social protection in quarantine
When deploying community quarantine to protect its citizens, the Government of the Philippines needed a fast, reliable way to offer social support and maintain accountability. They turned to WFP’s beneficiary information and transfer management platform, SCOPE, which they had used in response to emergencies, such as Typhoon Ompong. Ministry staff were immediately able to begin distributing cash assistance to over 460,000 families.
Geospatial Information applications during COVID-19
With the pandemic disrupting global transport networks, the WFP Geospatial Support Unit created platforms for the humanitarian community to monitor international boundary and travel restrictions, flight connections and much more.
Digital guidance for field staff
WFP’s Emergency Field Operations Pocketbook now features a dedicated chapter on COVID-19, making it easier for field staff to navigate and find urgent information for field operations, including best practices, checklists, templates ready for download and contact lists. The pocketbook is available as an app and allows for offline access for those with unstable internet connection.
Protective equipment for field staff
Responding quickly to COVID-19, WFP’s Wellness Division has procured more than 6.7 million Personal Protective Equipment and Office Hygiene Items, including masks, hand sanitizers, and infra-red thermometers. Additionally, 6000 pulse oximeters (devices measuring oxygen in the blood) are being dispatched to Country Offices.
Enabling collective humanitarian response
Underpinning WFP’s work on global clusters and shared humanitarian services, the WFP-powered Humanitarian Booking Hub is a one-stop shop for humanitarian workers for the booking of UN accommodation, medical services, travel, the WFP-managed Global Passenger Air services for COVID, and more. The Hub’s mobile app has transformed the provision of field services for travelling humanitarian staff, while allowing the global sharing of information such as key updates and travel guidance for COVID-19.
Remote Market Functionality Index
Retail shops are crucial for people to buy local and nutritious food, and other essential products such as hygiene items. With COVID-19, the government of the Dominican Republic quickly implemented a temporary cash-based transfer program which would boost the purchasing power of 6 million people. The Market Functionality Index is a powerful tool which allows WFP to assess the capacities of a market to function over time and adjust cash-based transfer programmes accordingly.
The Choice Model in Jordan
Cash-based transfers empower hungry families to make choices based on their basic needs. In Jordan, WFP pushes empowerment further by allowing refugees to choose how to redeem their benefits, in addition to how to spend them. With the onset of COVID-19 and ATMs and banks closed, the Country Office adapted quickly to make sure refugees could still access their assistance and expanded ATM coverage tenfold, allowing refugees to redeem cards at different ATMs across the country.
Everyone loves excellent customer service! It improves a company’s products and better cater to customer needs - why would humanitarian assistance be different? By implementing a remote hotline during COVID-19, WFP’s Jordan Country Office made sure humanitarian assistance was a two-way communication, providing hungry families with a one-stop shop for information, complaints and feedback.