You’ve Got Mail: The Middle East's Addressing Challenges
Private and public entrepreneurs are hoping to end confusion over addresses in the Middle East using geographic information system (GIS) technology and mobile devices.
September 17, 2014In a New York high-rise, shoving pre-sorted bundles of mail into numbered slots takes a few minutes. In a Lebanese apartment building, delivering the mail might take 45 minutes or more of knocking on doors.
Places across the Middle East lack mail boxes, accurate addresses, and even agreed-upon street names. Maps, when they can be found, aren’t authoritative. It is no wonder that taxi drivers and delivery boys take directions like “behind the mosque and next to the egg shop.”
Private and public entrepreneurs are hoping to end the confusion using geographic information system (GIS) technology and mobile devices. Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Post led the way in the last decade, creating unique 13-digit “addresses” that identify geographic coordinates. In Lebanon, LibanPost’s CEO recently abandoned a 10-year effort to get the government to standardize addresses, instead contracting a Canadian company to create a numerical system like the one in Saudi Arabia. Despite these systems’ utility, though, few seem interested in writing down long lists of numbers.
More automated systems seem to be more promising. Aramex, a region-wide private logistics company, recently launched a service that allows users to pinpoint their preferred delivery location on a digital map. Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai are rolling out new GIS-based address systems with associated smartphone apps intended to facilitate not only mail delivery, but also improved navigation and provision of emergency services like fire and ambulance. It won’t do anything for traffic, but at least it will ensure drivers are headed in the right direction.
This piece is a part of Mezze, a monthly short article series spotlighting societal trends across the region. It originally appeared in the Middle East Program's monthly newsletter, Middle East Notes and Comment. For more information and to receive our mailings, please contact the Middle East Program.