Imagine trying to respond to a natural disaster that was 100 times more deadly than Hurricane Katrina. Now you have some sense of what Mark Ward’s job is like. Ward is a Senior Foreign Service officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and he led the agency’s response to the Asian Tsunami of December 2004, as well as the South Asia Earthquake of October 2005. Against impossible odds, Mark Ward didn’t flinch, and the efforts he has led are rebuilding communities and restoring hope for people across the globe.
The Asian Tsunami is one of the most devastating natural disasters on record. Almost 200,000 people in eight countries perished in a few hours, and more than 100,000 are still missing. Many more had their homes and livelihoods swept away. The coastal areas of Indonesia and Sri Lanka and two Indian island chains bore the brunt of the calamity.
In his role as the head of USAID’s recovery and reconstruction efforts, Ward and a dedicated team of USAID professionals in Washington and the field worked closely with the Indonesian government and non-governmental organizations on the ground, in addition to coordinating with personnel from the Department of State, the Department of Defense and the National Security Council. Ward also served as the federal government’s primary liaison to former Presidents Bush and Clinton, who led the effort to enlist support from the private sector.
USAID was able to respond immediately, providing life-saving food, water, medical care and shelter. The agency’s cash-for-work programs are giving families incomes. Loans, business advice and job training are helping to develop new sources of income. Under Ward’s leadership, longer-term projects to reconstruct water systems, roads and other critical systems, and create jobs, are underway.
More specifically, USAID has helped rehabilitate 50 miles of the major coastal road in Aceh, Indonesia. It has reconstructed the 160-meter Arugam Bay Bridge in Sri Lanka which was destroyed by the tsunami, and built playgrounds for children coming home to coastal villages. It has developed a tsunami early warning system designed to save lives across the region. In India, more than 50 children’s day care, recreation and non-formal schools have been established to help meet the needs of 25,000 children.
More recently, Ward led USAID’s reconstruction efforts related to the South Asia Earthquake, which claimed more than 80,000 lives, mainly in Pakistan. In the first phase, USAID has helped established 228 tent schools, improved shelter for 550,000 people, supported the food needs for 1 million people, and provided cash-for-work opportunities to 45,000 Pakistanis. Longer term, USAID is rebuilding schools, health clinics and vocational training centers.
Ward has also employed some innovative strategies to provide relief for the earthquake victims, placing a strong emphasis on public/private partnerships. He has identified the Pakistani community in the United States as a critical potential source of support and has spoken personally at several outreach events with Pakistani business and community leaders to enlist support. He also serves as the U.S. government advisor for the South Asia Earthquake Relief Fund. The Fund is led by the CEOs of Citigroup, General Electric, Pfizer and Xerox, and the former head of United Parcel Service, who were asked by President Bush to raise private funding for relief and reconstruction. Ward has spent countless hours advising this group on issues such as current relief efforts by the U.S. and Pakistani governments, security concerns in the affected regions, and proper mechanisms the Fund should use for disbursing payments.
Hopefully, we will never see another natural disaster on the scale of the tsunami or earthquake. But if we do, it’s good to know that Mark Ward will be on the case.
This medalist was the recipient of the International Affairs Medal. This medal was combined with the National Security category in 2008, and renamed the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal in 2020.