By Ivo Aščić and Jeff Stage
We only have to look back to last fall in the Gulf Coast and Florida to remember how flooding can ruin personal lives and property. As bad as the flooding can be in the United States, the effects were even worse in days gone by or can still be catastrophic today in developing countries that lack the proper infrastructure and relief systems to help flood victims.
Stamps and stamp collecting certainly cannot prevent flooding or create a super-relief fund, but they can help through a couple of ways.
First, let’s take a look at semipostals, which also are known as charity or fundraising stamps. The price of the stamp includes postage plus an extra amount for charity. Unlike revenue stamps, there are no conditions that force the use of these stamps. Consumers choose to pay the extra amount for postage and help a charity.
The first semipostals date to the late 19th century when a postal card issued by Great Britain in 1890 commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Penny Post. The card had a 1-penny face value, but sold for sixpence with the difference going to a fund for postal workers. By the early 20th century, charity stamps had become more common, particularly throughout Europe.
Semipostals throughout the world have been issued to help many causes and organizations, with the Red Cross, children’s charities and war victims being some of the major benefactors of these stamps.
The United States issued its first semipostal in 1998 with extra money raised supporting breast cancer research. The second semipostal for the U.S. – the Heroes of 2001 – was issued in 2002, with money raised going to 9/11 charities. The United States’ sixth semipostal – Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness – was issued in 2017.
Here, we’re focused on semipostals to help victims of floods along with a stamp donation program likewise aimed at aiding flood victims and other charitable causes in Africa.
The earliest and certainly one of the largest floods on the planet, according to the Bible, was the great flood as a result of rain for 40 days and nights. Its exact date of occurrence is unknown, but likely 4,000 to 7,000 years ago.
In Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, floods were caused by the rivers Tigris and the Euphrates. Even the greatest rulers of that time could not prevent them. In more recent history, major flood disasters with millions of dead and invaluable material damage have occurred. River Huang He (Yellow River), Yangtze and Huai in the last 150 years took millions of human lives. European rivers such as the Danube, Rhine, Sava, Volga, Seine and others have also flooded from their troughs, causing huge economic damage as well as taking lives. Aside from disastrous floods along rivers such as the Mississippi and Ohio, the communities of Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Galveston, Texas; and New Orleans are among the many horrific flood sites in the U.S. over the past 130 years.
Likely the first semipostal stamps aimed at helping flood victims was a set of 12 overprints issued in 1926 by the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which would become Yugoslavia in 1929. The stamps show a young King Alexander I and were overprinted with the extra money targeted for flood victims.
In May of 2014, floodwaters from the Sava River devastated large parts of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia in southeastern Europe. Three months’ worth of rain fell in only three days; it is the heaviest rainfall in since records began in 1894. More than 3 million people were affected. A special Croatian commemorative postmark – “Red Cross and floods” – helped draw attention to the need for help following the 2014 floods.
Over the past 100 years, hundreds of semipostals with millions of copies receiving charitable add-on fees were printed to help flood victims and to raise awareness about the importance of preventive action. Some of these stamps report about flooding in Honduras in 1913, Austria in 1921, Russia (Leningrad) in 1924, Liechtenstein (the Rhine) in 1927, Hungary in 1940 and 1965, South West Germany in 1947-1948, Denmark in 1953, Netherlands (Icelandic stamp) in 1953, Argentina (Buenos Aires area) in 1958, France in 1959, Slovakia (Danube) in 1965, Iraq in 1967, Algeria in 1969, China in 1970 and other countries.
Disastrous floods, followed by a rising tide of charity stamps, continue in this century: Australia and Peru in 2011, Moldova in 2010, Hungary in 2010, Bangladesh in 2007, Austria in 2006, Romania in 2005, Algeria in 2001 and other states were the reason for issuing stamps with add-on payments to help flood victims.
Sadly, flooding will continue to be a major threat worldwide, according to reports from the United Nations, much of it tied to rising sea levels. “Current projections of global average sea level rise are now expected to double by 2100, which would be severely damaging – if not disastrous – for many of the world’s coastal cities, from Ho Chi Minh City and Mumbai to New Orleans and Miami,” reported The Guardian in a 2017 article based on the U.N.’s projections.