Hope in the Blink of an Eye

Displacement Emergency Response Innovation Jordan Syria
Hamda stands in front of a camera at a grocery cash register
WFP/Mohammad Batah
Hamda, a Syrian refugee from Daraa, looks into an iris scan camera in Jordan's King Abdullah Park refugee camp.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) launched new technology today that allows Syrian refugees in Jordan to purchase food from local shops with a scan of their eye.

Hamda, a Syrian refugee from Daraa, walked into a supermarket today at the King Abdullah Park camp in northern Jordan to redeem her monthly food assistance. 

But instead of using her usual prepaid electronic card at checkout, she looked straight into an iris scan camera and paid for her shopping with the twinkling of an eye.

“This is a milestone in the evolution of our food assistance programme,” said WFP’s Jordan Country Director Mageed Yahia, when recalling the first few months of the Syria crisis when WFP distributed food parcels.

The innovative iris scan payment system will allow an initial group of Syrians living in refugee camps in Jordan to purchase food without needing cash, vouchers, or credit cards. Instead, they can vouch for their identity and purchase goods through a simple eye scan, making food assistance more efficient, enhancing accountability, and making grocery shopping easier and more secure for refugees.

“The fact that this is happening in Jordan makes it all the more exciting as we hope that it will further contribute to the country’s progress towards being a regional hub for technology,” Yahia said.

The technology works in tandem with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s biometric registration data of refugees and a variety of WFP’s partners in Jordan, including IrisGuard, the company that developed the iris scan platform; Jordan Ahli Bank; and their counterpart Middle East Payment Systems (MEPS).

Hamda takes a look at shelves of food items
WFP/Mohammad Batah
Hamda purchases food for her family in a camp grocery store.

Once the shopper has his or her iris scanned, the system automatically communicates with UNHCR’s registration database to confirm the identity of the refugee seeking food assistance. Upon verification, it determines the refugee’s remaining balance through Jordan Ahli Bank and MEPS. Finally, it confirms the purchase and prints a receipt for the refugee.

WFP hopes to expand the use of this iris scan payment system for all Syrians living in refugee camps in Jordan this year.

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