The postal sector worldwide suffered during the COVID pandemic — closures, lack of staff, very limited international flights — while the number of packages in the mail increased. All of them have had to manage severe natural threats with extreme storms, flooding, earthquakes, and wildfires in the last few years. The postal operators in the developed world have recovered. The less developed countries have had the same problems added to any previous problems with poor services. This is not to say all developing countries have poor service; some have very good service.
Some of the countries with poor post-pandemic delivery are those with poor pre-pandemic delivery. Many of the countries in Latin America and Africa and some in Asia had poor delivery for many years with little or no improvement over decades. Postal services were often seen as a cost center with little opportunity for profits or, in countries with government fraud, little opportunity for kick-backs. (Again, this is not the case with all developing countries.)
Mailed items can disappear from the postal service — or from customs. Delivery is spotty to non-existent in some areas of these countries. They face other complications that have contributed to this situation: massive immigration from other countries, civil war, terrorism, drug cartels, and internal migration creating large informal settlements or squatter camps. Little has improved with changes of government or when the postal operator has been reorganized.
During the height of the pandemic, postal operators in some developing countries closed for varying periods of time. Since the pandemic, some of these have struggled to fully reopen and provide effective postal services. Postal operators from Afghanistan and Bangladesh in Asia to Ecuador and Mexico in the Americas to South Africa and Zimbabwe in Africa are struggling. That better postal service may not be the highest priority is understandable, but it’s still a problem for the international postal network and for international mailers. Developing countries and the international community have realized that effective postal service is integral to economic development.
The list of countries with insufficient or poor delivery is lengthy. Mailers — publishers, financial services, retailers, membership associations, and others — are often unaware of the limited service in those countries. A few are on the USPS’s international service disruptions web page (https://about.usps.com/newsroom/service-alerts/international/welcome.htm), but many are not. The countries on the list are subject to US government sanctions, have notified the USPS about an issue, or notified the Universal Postal Union (UPU), which forwards the notices to the postal operators of member countries.
Countries with failing or failed postal operators may be reluctant to notify the USPS or the UPU of problems. It’s not simply a matter of pride or respect, although that certainly comes into this. As long as they receive mail from other countries, they receive fees to deliver that mail. Remember that postal service is usually seen as a cost center. When international mail arrives, it becomes a source of income. If the mail is delivered, the recipient country does deserve a fee for that domestic delivery. If the mail isn’t delivered, what happens? Unless the country sending the mail files a complaint, nothing happens. Countries are generally reluctant to file complaints against other countries unless the situation is grave.
So, what about the mailers? Mailers need to track complaints from customers for missed issues of periodicals, missed financial statements, or non-delivery of merchandise by country at least. Other international mailers may be willing to share or exchange what they know about where delivery is problematic. International mail service providers are often aware of countries with poor delivery records, too, and may be willing to discuss this with their customers.
Merry Law is President of WorldVu LLC and the editor of Guide to Worldwide Postal-Code and Address Formats. She is a member of the UPU’s Addressing Work Group and of the U.S. International Postal and Delivery Services Federal Advisory Committee.
This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.