Tag Archives: “World Post Day”

World Post Day: the impact of infection and civil unrest in mail delivery

Many factors can affect the collection and delivery of mail in the UK and across the world. Throughout history, postal services have had to cope with obstacles including weather, industrial action, infection, and civil and military unrest.

POST 122_3535 International Sanitary Regulations-topimage

International mail is particularly subject to disruption due to the distances involved and the modes of transport used. While, for example, in the event of industrial action it  is usually relatively straightforward to shift inland mail from one form of transport to another i.e. rail to road, there are less options available for overseas mail. In particular, moving mail from air to sea could result in significant delays.

International Sanitary Regulations (POST 122/3535)

International Sanitary Regulations (POST 122/3535)

This is still true today. Royal Mail’s  incident report for international mail shows that, at present, one of the key causes of disruption is the Ebola outbreak, which has resulted in the suspension of all mail services to and from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Libya. Delays delivering mail as the result of infection are nothing new. In the early Twentieth Century outbreaks of cholera in regions such as Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan were a cause for concern. Questions were raised as to whether mail from these regions should be disinfected. Though not thought necessary as ‘cholera germs have a very short life… even air mail sufficient to avoid danger of infection’ (POST 122/3523). Despite this, in some cases mail was disinfected or quarantined to meet the concerns of local health boards and to avoid the Post Office being considered a scapegoat should an outbreak occur in a previously unaffected area.

India Pakistan mails (POST 122/10945)

India Pakistan mails (POST 122/10945)

India Pakistan surface mails (POST 122/10946)

India Pakistan surface mails (POST 122/10946)

War and civil unrest are currently causing disruption to mail services in Syria, and Crimea and Sevastopol in the Ukraine. Military conflict has historically had an impact on international postal services, even in cases where Britain is not directly involved. For example the deterioration of relations between India and Pakistan in 1965 disrupted mail to and from these countries. India refused access to its airspace to planes which had taken off from Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Ships were also rerouted, but in many cases it was difficult to identify and separate mails for India and Pakistan and to establish independent postal services.

-Helen Dafter, Archivist

World Post Day

Today is World Post Day, marking the anniversary of the establishment of the Universal Postal Union.

The Universal Postal Union is a specialised agency of the United Nations which exists as an international forum for postal co-operation, establishing rules for international mail exchange and making recommendations to promote growth in mail volumes and ensures quality of service. Formed in 1874, it is the second oldest intergovernmental organisation in existence.

Paris Postal Conference centenary stamp, 1963

Paris Postal Conference centenary stamp, 1963

In 1862, Montgomery Blair, USA Postmaster-General, convened a forum to discuss simplification of the existing system of treaties between pairs or small groups of countries, and the first conference of the International Postal Commission was held in Paris on 11th May 1863. An international postal treaty was proposed to develop social, cultural and commercial communication but, while general principles were adopted for application to pacts between the administrations of fifteen individual countries, no formally binding agreement was established.

In 1868 a plan for a postal union between “civilised countries” was drawn up by Heinrich von Stephan, Superior Privy Councillor of Posts in the North German Confederation. The plan was submitted to the first International Postal Congress, which took place in Berne on 15th September 1874. Delegates from 22 countries, Austria and Hungary, Belgium, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the United States of America, attended the conference, which resulted in the signing of the 1874 Treaty of Berne on 9th October. A collective convention governing the international postal service was established, and the General Postal Union came into effect on 1st July 1875.

Centenary of the Universal Postal Union stamps, 1974
Centenary of the Universal Postal Union stamps, 1974

Further expansion was inevitable due to rapid international development and in 1878, following the accession of the colonies of some member countries, in addition to other new members, the name was changed to the Universal Postal Union. The 1878 Paris Congress decided that membership should be open to any country, by means of a unilateral declaration, without consultation with existing members. This system lasted until 1st July 1948, when the union became a specialised agency of the United Nations.

75th Anniversary of the Universal Postal Union, 1949

75th Anniversary of the Universal Postal Union, 1949

Postal Union Congress £1 stamp

Postal Union Congress £1 stamp

The Convention was revised again by the 1947 Paris Congress and, as one of the conditions under which the UPU was recognised as an agency of the UN, accession requests required the approval of two thirds of the union’s membership. Membership is now open to all UN countries, but approval must still be sought by sovereign countries outside the UN. Currently the Universal Postal Union had 191 member countries.

Postal Union Congress low value commemorative stamps

Postal Union Congress low value commemorative stamps

According to the Universal Postal Union’s website today is a day 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”. Why not post a letter to your friends to celebrate?