The Silk Road is an ancient transportation channel that began in China and traversed Central Asia, West Asia, Africa and Europe. This strategic route was instrumental not only in linking the ancient world but also in fostering key economic and cultural partnerships between the East and West, especially the Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabian, Greek and Roman cultures. Technological advances over the years have compelled researchers worldwide to take key components from the past and transform them so as to meet a more advanced future. The Silk Road has not been ignored. Researchers in the Central Asia region, including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, have received EUR 5 million from the EU's EuropeAid Cooperation Office to ensure better and faster internet capacity. This significant investment to the Central Asia Research and Education Network (CAREN) has effectively upgraded the Silk Road to a 21st century high-speed internet highway for research and education. Researchers, academics and even students in the area can now connect to the internet as never before. Sources say these high-capacity internet connections present the users with fresh opportunities that could eventually lead to greater research activity in the global arena. The Kyrgyz capital city of Bishkek officially launched CAREN on 21 September. Since Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are also pegged to join the network, CAREN will connect more than 500,000 users at over 500 universities and research centres. In a nutshell, the network involves large databases and huge processing power required for advanced research activity in the region. According to the European Commission, the high-speed CAREN links will permit researchers to access and exchange diverse information such as seismic data from monitoring stations in near-real time. This is especially important because the area is an earthquake-prone zone. CAREN effectively enhances disaster risk management and hazard assessment because scientists can connect with their peers in other locations. For example, researchers working from the Central Asian Institute for Applied Geosciences (CAIAG) in Kyrgyzstan will be able to interact with their colleagues at the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ). Other initiatives getting off the ground thanks to the CAREN network include a tele-medicine initiative in Tajikistan, textile research between the UK and Uzbekistan, and environmental monitoring between Germany, Kyrgyzstan and the US. Another significant factor is that CAREN is fuelling the research and education community worldwide. Not only will users be able to browse through digital libraries, but they could also swap remote scientific instruments and extensive amounts of data. 'CAREN reflects the European Commission's strategy to address an important gap in Europe's global infrastructure for research by providing high-capacity, yet cost-effective data communication links with Central Asia,' Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes said in a statement. 'It reduces the digital divide and contributes to the modernisation and development of research and education in the region.' For his part, Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs said: 'This project will facilitate and improve the work of more than 500,000 researchers in Central Asia. I'm confident that EU aid will have a high impact on the economic growth of the countries.' CAREN is headed and run by the DANTE research networking organisation, a non-profit organisation (NGO) targeting the design and implementation of pan-European research and education networks for National Research and Education Networks (NRENs) of the partner countries.
Germany, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, United States, Uzbekistan