Postal Communications in Lebanon
Over the last couple of months I have been getting ordinary snail mail from Lebanon. It' not that it hasn't happened before. During the civil war between 1975 and 1990, we did from time to to time receive the odd letter and Christmas card. But delays were astounding, sometimes up to six months. And quite often letters tat were sent nevver arrived - in either direction. During the last six months of 1997 when were were living in Basra Street just off Rue Jeanne d'Arc in Ras Beirut, the postman did come quite regularly and delivered mail that sat in a small pile on the consierge's desk on the ground floor. But sent mail did not come regularly. The only mail that could be relied on to get there or back was through the AUB post office. Now things are changing.
- Børre Ludvigsen, 990305
Libanpost's webserver: http://www.libanpost.com.lb/
BEIRUT, March 4 (AFP) - "I've got a letter!" exclaims Najla, a Beirut woman in her sixties. Never mind what it says, the mere fact of receiving one in Lebanon makes it a day to remember. Since the beginning of the civil war in 1975, the postal service has been in complete disarray -- but now a new joint Lebanese-Canadian company, Libanpost, has embarked on the long job to put the system back on its feet. "Very few Lebanese under the age of 30 have either mailed or received a letter from abroad. But this is all going to change," Andre Veilleux, vice-president of Libanpost, told AFP. The task is gargantuan: there are practically no post offices, postmen, or letter boxes, nor are there any post codes or even any accurate addresses. And the average age of employees at the ministry of post and telecommunications is 54. Even the postal law, dating back to 1959, has become obsolete. "We had to repair wartime damage and work conditions were in a deplorable state," said Veilleux, whose target remains to have next-day mail deliveries. The company has recently started collecting mail six days a week in 40 towns with 13 trucks. On March 15, 30 brand new post offices will be in operation, with an army of mailmen operating a door-to-door delivery system. Libanpost is employing postmen from each neighborhood because many streets in Lebanon remain nameless and some of the buildings have no numbers. It's a matter of knowing the local landmarks: letters are addressed to the house "opposite the grocery", or "next to the pharmacy". It's largely a matter of luck whether they arrive. That is set to change too. "At the end of 1999, we will have 150 letter boxes in Beirut and within 18 months we will have set up an eight-digit postal code system for the whole country," said Libanpost president Nassib el-Husseini. The modest amount of mail coming from abroad, estimated at between 60,000 and 80,000 letters each day -- most of it business letters -- is currently sorted manually in a center near Beirut airport. Conditions may be primitive but the service evidently efficient. "I have started to receive regularly and on time a magazine I subscribe to in Canada," said one delighted academic. Libanpost began operations in October 1998 with about 1,000 employees. It was created by the government of former prime minister Rafik Hariri under a 12 year contract with the Canadian company Profac. Two thirds of its 20 million dollar capital was provided by the Canadian firm and the remainder by the Lebanese government. It expects to break even within four years and government hopes to see annual returns of five percent rising to 40 percent by the time the contract ends. Not content with improving mail delivery and collection, Libanpost is currently negotiating with a number of banks, private telephone companies, publishing houses and the state Electricite du Liban to win contracts to handle delivery of local bills. It is also planning to launch its own express mail service, and is discussing a cooperation agreement with the ministry of post and telecommunication in Cyprus, where many Lebanese firms are established. Libanpost has introduced another unheard of innovation. In this country of heavy smokers, employees have to go outside to have a cigarette. The rehabilitation of the post is the pride and joy of the Lebanese government, which sees an efficient mail system reaching even the smallest village as a way of rebuilding the state. But the past has not gone away any more than Israeli troops have left the country. Any letter addressed to the Jewish state will be redirected to the Lebanese General Security Department.