More than half of people on this planet do not have an address, according to a Universal Postal Union (UPU) report. Without an official address, they have difficulty applying for government services, social benefits, or, in some cases, even obtaining a train pass. They cannot open bank accounts and may not be able to get health care.
To a significant extent, a large majority of these 4 billion people cannot enjoy their full rights as citizens because they often lack an identity. “As a person’s identity is often tied to having an address, various UN organizations and other international organizations support initiatives to strengthen national address infrastructures,” the UPU report said.
The UPU initiated its Addressing the World program more than 5 years ago to emphasize the importance of address systems to a nation’s infrastructure, especially in developing countries where a lack of street names and property numbers hinder the ability to provide public services to residents and businesses.
And a poor addressing system also carries an economic price tag. Costa Rica estimated its lack of an address infrastructure cost it $720 million a year, the UPU report noted. Since instituting its national addressing project, Costa Rica has improved emergency services, urban planning and zoning, its postal service, and tourism, which was especially affected by a lack of street signs.
Here in the United States, the U.S. Postal Service offers general mail delivery to individuals with no fixed address and those with no identification. Mail is delivered to a post office and held for pick-up. The Postal Service works with the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness, which strives to end homelessness.
In October, the UPU will hold its first Global Addressing Conference to discuss innovative solutions to addressing challenges, including ways to develop and implement addressing systems quickly and at low cost. In particular, the conference will consider ways to use technology to reach those goals.
Recent efforts suggest technology will certainly guide solutions. Irish company GO Code has found success in using a location’s geo-coordinates (it’s longitude and latitude coordinates) to help the Hope Foundation assign a unique address to each dwelling in Calcutta slums. Universal addressing solution what3words uses a unique combination of three words to identify a 3 meter by 3 meter square anywhere on the planet. And Natural Area Coding, which uses a grid system to assign 10-digit codes to locations, bills itself as the ZIP Code for the 21st Century because it provides a single, international standard.
Do you consider addresses to be part of a nation’s infrastructure? What other ways could technology be used to help with addressing challenges?