When a global pandemic has your address, but your government doesn’t know where you are
Speaking at a Universal Postal Union (UPU) conference on addressing the Director General of the UN specialized agency, Bishar A. Hussein, warned that the lack of addresses could lead to individuals not existing in government eyes. The UPU Chief said this outcome would hit the poorest and most vulnerable hardest because they faced higher risks during natural disasters or an outbreak of disease.
During the 2015 conference, held at the UPU’s Berne, Headquarters, Frederick Norkeh, Liberia’s then Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, also gave a powerful illustration of the terrible impact of a lack of standardized addressing during the country’s deadly Ebola outbreak. He compared this with a community where the houses had been numbered as part of a 2013 pilot project enabling “contact tracing” for individuals in contact with someone infected by the virus. Norkeh, in his speech, called for enhanced international support for countries to improve their inadequate addressing infrastructure.
Move forward five years and the world today faces a global pandemic – COVID-19 – that has infected almost every country in the world. Once again, the UPU is highlighting the importance of addresses as a means to enable the deployment of emergency services or the delivery of medical supplies. UPU Addressing and Postcode Expert Patricia Vivas reinforces the importance of addresses when she says, "In Europe, mapping outbreak cases of COVID-19 and deployment of emergency services have been handled in a matter of hours in countries like Italy or Spain. A very different scenario is to be expected in less economically developed countries where the COVID-19 situation is becoming increasingly intense; however, addressing networks and mapping tools have yet to be fully implemented in many of these countries."
Address infrastructure helps in the management of information, which can be coordinated and exchanged at different levels of government, as well as during the distribution of emergency services and management of health assets. Databases that use addresses can help link location data with personal identification details and information on infected cases or vulnerable segments of the population. Examples of critical data include the total number of people living in a neighbourhood struck down by the pandemic, and the number of people, particularly elderly people, expected to be in affected areas.
The response of emergency services is time-sensitive. Identification of a location and the best route to access it are crucial for rapid responses. “Street names and house numbers greatly facilitate the ability of emergency response teams to reach an affected area. When operating in the field, the security and health personnel involved in the COVID-19 pandemic must be kept informed about the actions to be carried out and the risks of their work,” notes Vivas.
In order to make decisions about operations, existing hazards must be accounted for and a comprehensive plan designed. Integrating all of the available information, including spatial information, is a critical factor for making secure decisions. COVID-19-affected countries need maps displaying precise outbreak areas and medical infrastructure to facilitate the identification and access of safe havens for victims and personnel.
For people in quarantine or confinement, the ability to order goods online is essential. However, deliveries need proper address information. Address networks also go far beyond the postal sector; they comprise crucial information – an underlying infrastructure upon which many other services can be built and actions planned. They are a significant step in connecting people and national authorities with rapid emergency response and resources available when a pandemic strikes.
As a UPU publication titled, Addressing the World—An Address for Everyone, acknowledged in 2011: “Addresses facilitate the provision of public and private services, improving the response of aid and emergency services in tackling disease and natural disasters for example, while fostering social and economic development in general.”