“When Andy Card tells you to do something, you do it,” laughs Andrew Natsios of his invitation to teach at Texas A&M University by the former White House chief of staff, who is now the acting dean of the Bush School. “We’ve been friends for 40 years; I had no choice in the matter,” he jokes.
Arriving at Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service this past September, Natsios brought with him expertise in public service gained during a long career that included roles as state legislator, military officer, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and special envoy to Sudan under President George W. Bush.
Natsios serves as a fellow at the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at the Bush School and an executive professor teaching Aggie students a course this semester called “Great Famines, War and Humanitarian Assistance.”
He has been studying the various causes and effects of famine over the years, and says he’s been “obsessed” with famine and hunger issues because his great uncle died of starvation in the Great Famine of Greece in the early 1940s, which occurred during Axis occupation in World War II. “About 10 percent of the Greek population died and many were buried in mass graves,” he says. “I grew up with stories about this and it was very painful for my family.”
Natsios says most famine deaths are preventable and believes that the international humanitarian community is having positive effects on the fight against global starvation.
“My own view is that we are making progress in the war against starvation deaths,” he stresses. “The problem is always politics interfering with the response system. There will always be problems because of political crises, failed states and so on, that could cause famine to erupt. But we’ve made a lot of progress through NGOs (non-governmental organizations), the United Nations and USAID.”
Scientific research developments have also helped greatly in the fight against global hunger, Natsios contends. “We know much more from research that we didn’t know a long time ago,” he says. “There is new technology, such as commercially designed seeds that can be bred to resist drought, disease and insects. There is no such thing as a “˜golden bullet’ that will solve all the food security issues in the world, but biotechnology has a great promise to help.”
Natsios co-chairs the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, “a bi-partisan group of policy makers that are trying to publicize through research, the appalling human rights record of North Korea,” he explains. “While the North Korean government has been building its nuclear arsenal and the maintaining the third largest land army in Asia, its people have been sliding into deepening poverty and acute malnutrition, stunting generations of children.”
He says with the collapse of the public distribution food system after a famine killed around 2.5 million North Koreans in the mid-90s, political and economic instability both within the country’s borders and with neighbors such as China and Russia, have made conditions ripe for another famine to occur. The country’s ruling party has resisted reform to the agricultural system and, “they won’t do what’s necessary to stop famine because they want to keep control,” he contends.
Natsios says support of humanitarian relief efforts is key in the battle against famine and that for the most part, food and monetary donations are reaching those in need. “There are instances where bad things have happened, but the great majority of the food and money goes to the right people,” he notes.
“We must design the relief system in the right way and be very careful. These programs “• the U.N. World Food Program and NGOs such as Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee, are the best and most competent food organizations and they are making progress. But things can happen such as in North Korea: the military can divert food and the food system can be manipulated for political reasons.”
It was announced this month that Texas A&M University was selected by USAID to be a partner in the organization’s new Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), and along with six other U.S. and foreign universities, will participate in research designed to identify and find solutions for problems in global health, food security and chronic conflict.