EUROPE: EU funding for 21st century Silk Road

The European Commission has brought internet researchers in Central Asia into the international research community through a EUR$5 million (US$6.74 million) grant to the Central Asia Research and Education Network, CAREN.

Brussels says the funding will upgrade the ancient Silk Road carrying goods between Europe and China via Central Asia into "a 21st century high-speed internet highway for research and education".

At present CAREN covers Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan - and after the pending membership of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan it will link over half a million users across more than 500 universities and research centres.

Besides providing high-speed connections between scientists across the region, CAREN will enable links to its pan-European counterpart computer network GÉANT, thus plugging middle Asia into the global research and education community.

Early beneficiaries of CAREN will include: scientists monitoring seismic data with improved hazard assessment and disaster risk management in this earthquake-prone zone; telemedicine initiatives in Tajikistan; planned textile research collaborations between the London College of Fashion and partner colleges in Tashkent; and environmental monitoring of the Issyk-Kul basin between the Kyrgyz Institute of Physics and partner institutes in Germany and the United States of America.

CAREN, funded by the commission's Europe aid cooperation office and the beneficiary countries on a cost-sharing basis, is a successor to the NATO-funded Silk Project which introduced research networking to the Caucasus and Central Asia, originally deploying low-capacity satellite technology and more recently using terrestrial fibre optics.

Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner for the digital agenda, said CAREN reflected the commission's desire to address an important gap in Europe's global infrastructure for research by providing high-capacity, cost-effective data communications links with Central Asia.