Ivory Coast post office adopts three-word system

Image source, what3words
Image caption, Many people in Ivory Coast live in places that have no street names or house numbers

Ivory Coast has adopted a new system of postal addresses that will allow the whole country to receive mail deliveries for the first time.

Every location is identifiable by a unique combination of just three words, allocated to 3m-by-3m squares.

Until now, the head of Ivory Coast's post office told the BBC the service had relied on post office boxes.

But not all Ivorians will have phones with internet access needed to access their unique code via an app.

The new system is likely to help the middle classes, and make it easier for companies to deliver parcels straight to their doors.

Mongolia is the only other nation to use the system, called what3words.

''We have 150,000 PO boxes for a population of nearly 24 million. That means a postal address is a luxury in Ivory Coast. We have to make postal access available to everyone," La Poste Director General Isaac Gnamba-Yao told the BBC.

"If we are being told to move into the digital age in which people order parcels online, we have to be able to deliver them. This technology is going to make that possible."

Image source, AFP
Image caption, PO boxes have been the most reliable way of receiving post in Ivory Coast

Those who did not have PO boxes and live on roads without official names or street number often rely on a description such as "opposite the tailors, next to the lady who sells tea" to direct someone for a delivery.

The addresses are in French, Ivory Coast's official language. There is also an English version of the system but the words have different meanings.

Three-word addresses

  • inspecte.joyeux.enfiler (in English, the address is island.gain.turntable):
Image source, what3words
  • gravure.neuve.croyons (unwind.stun.dozed in English):
Image source, what3words
  • what3words gives every place in the world an easy to remember address
  • It has divided the globe into 57 trillion 3m (9.8ft) by 3m squares
  • Each is assigned each a unique combination of three words

Using the free La Poste app, customers on smart phones will be able to find an address and simply write three words on an envelope.

The BBC's Alex Duval Smith in Abidjan says the success of what3words will depend on the strength of the information campaign during the rollout, as under the system, a village name or a familiar landmark will become less important than a sequence of words chosen by a computer.

But the company insists remote villages in Mongolia, where the system has been piloted, have taken to it, she says.

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