Relevance of the Post | Daily News

Relevance of the Post

Ours is a fast changing world, where it is possible to share a document or a picture with a person on the other side of the world in just a few seconds, while carrying on a live video conversation. The cost? Zero. The world has indeed advanced in ways that we could not have imagined even 20 years ago.

In this high-tech world, writing and sending a letter seems to be such a simple exercise. A letter takes quite a few days to reach its intended destination even within a country and internationally, a week or so. It may not seem fast to those of us accustomed to the world of email and WhatsApp.

However, in the early days, mail was a revolution. Several things had to happen to make the worldwide postal system what it is today. In the ancient days, messengers carrying letters and documents travelled on foot and/or on horseback. The horse was a little faster, but it still took days for delivery. The train and a little later, motorised transport helped revolutionise mail delivery. What took a week earlier could suddenly be delivered in just two days, for example. Most international mail is now routed by air (Par Avion), which is the fastest option.

One major advance in the worldwide postal system was the invention of the postage stamp and the formal introduction of a worldwide postal delivery agreement. The introduction of the Penny Black, the world’s first postage stamp in England in 1840 on a proposal by Sir Rowland Hill, turned the postal system upside down. It was then usual for the recipient to pay for the delivery, but the postage stamp made it simple for the sender to pre-pay the cost of delivery. The recipient did not have to pay anything at all, even for international mail.

The other major breakthrough was the inception of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) on October 9, 1874. This day is still celebrated as World Post Day, by the 193 Member States of the UPU. The purpose of World Post Day, which falls today, is to create awareness of the role of the postal sector in people’s and businesses’ everyday lives and its contribution to the social and economic development of countries. The celebration encourages member countries to undertake activities aimed at generating a broader awareness of their Post’s role and activities among the public and media on a national scale. This year’s theme is “Innovate to Recover” in a pandemic-hit world.

It is not only letters that are delivered by the postal system. Documents, parcels, magazines and newspapers and a variety of other goods are sent by mail. The world postal system faces tough competition from the major courier companies (in fact, the postal systems of some countries are owned by courier companies) and of course, Internet and email for instant document transfer, but for everyday letters and documents the postal system is still a reliable workhorse. Even in the age of email, there is nothing quite like sending a handwritten letter to a loved one.

Post offices too have evolved over the last two centuries, offering a range of value added services, including telephone, money transfer, banking and bill payment facilities (some one billion people hold savings accounts in postal financial institutions), commemorative stamp sales and somewhat ironically email itself. The postal system is modernising itself at a rapid pace. If we think of the Internet as an ‘enemy’ of the mail system, nothing could be further from the truth. People do buy a lot of stuff on the Internet and someone has to deliver them. Enter the postal system.

e-commerce is developing at warp-speed. According to a report by Interactive Media in Retail Group, total business-to-consumer e-commerce sales are estimated at US$ 400 billion in 2021. If the world postal system can gain even half of these orders, leaving the rest to courier companies, that would still mean a huge profit. The Internet is thus a great opportunity for the postal system.

Sri Lanka too is moving ahead on these fronts. This country has one of the most vibrant and extensive postal systems in the entire region, even though there is a lot of room for improvement in areas such as postal coding. Sri Lanka’s Postal Department, which runs 437 post offices throughout the country, faces the challenge of reviving the full gamut of postal facilities in the remote areas of the country.

The authorities have not forgotten to give a special place to the humble stamp, with old and new Sri Lankan stamps issued on a variety of themes and occasions being highly coveted by collectors worldwide.

The Ministry of Posts and the Postal Department have organised several programmes to mark the World Post Day in Sri Lanka. The post will remain a pivotal part of our lives, evolving to meet changing needs and times. Regardless of whether we send a letter to the next town or a parcel to the other side of the world, the post will continue to connect people around the world and enrich their lives in a multitude of ways.

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