omething disastrously wrong seems to occur each time one turns on the television. Whether it's Hurricane Ian ripping through Cuba and Florida, war erupting in Eastern Europe, or floods wreaking havoc in Pakistan, 2022 has seen no shortage of natural and man-made disasters.

Furthermore, as the weather continues to warm, extreme weather conditions and other natural catastrophes are anticipated to become more common, potentially leading to increased regional and global instability. As a result, some organizations working to strengthen decentralized community resilience are turning to blockchain and Web3 tools for assistance.

On August 29, 2005, the United States suffered one of its worst natural catastrophes in modern history when Category 5 Hurricane Katrina hammered into the New Orleans area. The National Weather Service had issued an explicit warning to residents of the city and surrounding region the morning before.

Regrettably, the bulletin proved to be accurate. Thousands of people were killed, and millions were displaced after flood waters overpowered the city.

Three and a half years later, Satoshi Nakamoto mined the Bitcoin blockchain's genesis block, born out of another major emergency, the 2008 global financial crisis, severely damaging economies worldwide.

Hurricane Katrina opened the generation's eyes to the fact that founded systems backed up by politicians and government leaders are actually quite fragile. Given that governments may fail to safeguard their citizens, communities frequently must construct alternative support structures.

Since Bitcoin's inception, the crypto and blockchain space has grown significantly, largely due to the rise of Ethereum and its smart contract capabilities. Today, the Web3 ecosystem is prospering. Even the most inexperienced crypto attendees can mint tokens, drop NFT collections, and vote in DAOs with a few minutes of study and clicks.

Should it be surprising that more and more people in the community resilience field are transforming to blockchain technology to help them prepare for and recover from disasters?

Web3 solutions, such as multisig wallets and DAOs, include a level of democratic rule that traditional systems cannot provide while also offering novel ways to fundraise and empower residents. But persuading their peers that these tools are worthwhile can be difficult, and not everybody appears to believe they will make a significant difference.

An innovative history

It is nothing new for individuals and communities to use decentralized technologies in response to disasters. Following Hurricane Sandy's devastation of New York City in October 2012, the nonprofit Red Hook Initiative founded a decentralized wireless network known as Red Hook WiFi, which used mesh networking to allow residents to interact and synchronize while power and internet service were mostly out in the neighborhood. 

Mutual support is one area of the greater community resilience space that has proven to be especially forward-thinking. The initiation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns that accompanied it sparked a surge in interest in it.

The statement is that governments and large non-profit organizations are generally incapable of – or unengaged in – truly meeting people's needs. These systematic problems are exacerbated during disasters like the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In some ways, mutual aid is a decentralized disaster management strategy that transfers power from centralized gatekeepers to societies.

Mutual aid organizations can quickly adopt new technologies because they lack the pressures of bureaucracy that come with centralized institutions. Balkind describes how volunteers responding to Hurricane Sandy began using Google Sheets to cooperate — and how government employees were barred from accessing Google documents from work devices.

Governments and large nonprofits can take months to years to implement new technology policies. They frequently enter into multiyear contracts with IT services and software companies, limiting their capacity to adopt new technologies even if they wish to. As a result, ideological new recruits who want to change things up commonly burn out and quit, abandoning those content with the established order in the majority and, worse, in charge.

As COVID-19 spread throughout New York City and the government-sanctioned lockdown measures, Balkind assisted in the launch of Mutual Aid NYC, a website that linked mutual aid groups with those searching to volunteer and those in need of assistance. Balkind and his colleagues were able to quickly rebuild the website at a time when the city was suffering to provide basic information to the public. The website had been viewed more than 250,000 times by December 2020.

Meet Web3 for mutual assistance

The pact, based in New York City, was one of many mutual aid groups that formed during the height of the pandemic, with the goal of raising funds for grassroots organizations doing essential work in the field but lacking visibility. The firm launched a subscription-based donation service in which supporters could pledge $3, $10, or $25 to help the group's goals. The pact would encourage a different NYC-based mutual aid group each month and contribute the revenue generated to that organization.

Regaining control

The Paperboy and Prince Love Gallery are another mutual aid-focused organization with which Pact has collaborated. Paperboy Prince, a community activist, musician, and artist, founded the Brooklyn-based gallery in September 2020. During the worst pandemic, it distributed millions of dollars in free food and even supplied 200 days of free shelter in a tiny building on its property.

Faced with opposition

However, not everyone is on board with introducing blockchain and cryptocurrency into the community resilience space. Many people are put off by the possible future climate impacts of proof-of-work blockchains, widespread pump-and-dump initiatives, libertarian influence on the sector, absence of regulation, and association with capital markets.

Blockchain technology is not an elixir

At the end of the day, instruments are just tools; the real work in crisis resilience is done on the ground. And it isn't easy to work. There are no quick fixes to building a network or organizing a community. No innovation can substitute outreach, partnership, trust-building, empowering individuals, and popping up for one another. This work is critical in developing community networks that will aid neighbors in surviving the next major crisis.

What do you think is the key to building strong and resilient communities? Let us know your thoughts by sharing this article on social media.

Nov 5, 2022
Digital Lifestyle

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