When it comes to resolving any kind of crisis or emergency, the power of collaborative approaches is hard to overestimate. Humanitarian professionals, for whom operating in crises is a daily reality, have a long history of collaborating with the whole range of local actors, including posts, to reach even the most isolated with life-saving supplies. However, although such collaborations have successfully served millions, the potential of the Post as a humanitarian partner goes much further.“When we speak about humanitarian supply chains, drivers for decision-making differ from commercial ones, where it’s much more driven by cost efficiency,” explains Sophie Gligorijevic, Head of the Logistics Division at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), on the latest episode of the Voice Mail podcast of the UPU. “When we are in an emergency, it’s not that we do not want to be cost-efficient, but the main driver is really the delivery time, and that’s what makes the main difference. We have to deliver at any cost and by any means.” This is where partnerships become indispensable.
As far as the ICRC is concerned, the main area of collaboration with the postal sector is the provision of financial services in the absence of other providers and particularly in hard-to-reach areas. According to Gligorijevic, the Post’s proximity to populations, understanding of their needs, and the trust that they enjoy with local communities are exceptionally valuable assets. “When we have a strong network of postal offices that is well-developed and that can provide financial services – cash distribution, bank transfer – this is the service that we need. (…) They usually have this extended coverage, they know the communities we are working with, because they are on the ground, and they are close to the people,” continues Gligorijevic.
As essential as it is, the provision of financial services is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the ways in which the postal network can be used to facilitate humanitarian relief. According to James Hale, Environment and Sustainable Development Expert at the UPU, this vast spectrum of the Post’s humanitarian roles remains largely unexplored: “Many humanitarian organizations have already established dedicated humanitarian logistics networks, so they might not be so aware of the variety of other ways for postal operators to assist their work.”
To showcase the rich and diverse nature of potential collaborations, Hale identifies three broader themes around the Post’s role as a humanitarian partner. The first one concerns the place of the Post in humanitarian logistics and immediate humanitarian response, such as transport of emergency supplies, equipment and personnel. The unprecedented contribution made by postal operators to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic is the brightest illustration of such work. Facilitated by the UPU through its Disaster Risk Management team and the Post4Health initiative, this contribution included the delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the first stages of the pandemic, and later on – on advancing the global vaccine roll-out.
The second theme is a broader role that postal actors can assume in local disaster recovery, including but not limited to re-establishing postal communications, providing affected populations with access to financial services (including social welfare and emergency support payments), and coordinating emergency services on the ground. Thus, back in 2013, in response to the damages caused by Typhoon Haiyan, PHLPost – the postal operator of the Philippines – partnered with the national Department of Social Welfare and Development through Landbank of the Philippines to bring cash grants to about 18,000 beneficiaries of the World Food Programme (WFP). In 2011, the speedy resumption of financial service counters at Japan Post, following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, made headlines throughout the nation.
Last but not least are the additional services through which posts support people who have been impacted by a disaster or a protracted disruption. These vary from registration of refugees and displaced persons in the host country, to health and safety information campaigns, checking on the vulnerable in their homes and even helping displaced children to access education. The UPU’s Guide to Postal Social Services outlines the impressive number of areas in which posts can act as powerful social development and humanitarian partners. These areas are backed by concrete examples, such as the collaboration between the Turkish Post Corporation (PTT) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the provision of financial aid to refugees and asylum seekers in Turkey between 2017 and 2019.
“A key message that we would like to communicate to the broader humanitarian sector is that they should consider strategic use of (and investment into) the postal infrastructure, and partnering with Posts to achieve their humanitarian goals,” concludes Hale.
With the humanitarian sector actors generally seeking help to advance their reach and with the postal sector being uniquely positioned and willing to provide such help, it seems that there is a clear match between the two. By raising awareness of this synergy and by helping posts make full use of it to support their communities, the UPU facilitates the delivery of the most demanded resource of all times, which is hope.
To listen to the full interview with Sophie Gligorijevic from ICRC, click here.