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Why cooperate with West Asia and North Africa?

Being a large region comprising 27 countries bordering the European Union, the region of West Asia and North Africa (WANA region) is without a doubt a very interesting region to cooperate with. The following paragraphs shall summarize some good reasons why School VI of TU Berlin is seeking collaboration with partners from the region.

Importance of the WANA region for global sustainability
With almost 600 million inhabitants, developments taking place in the WANA region play an important role with regards to global sustainability. This is especially the case as the population is expected to grow at a high level in the coming years. Just like in many other regions of the world, consumption levels of critical resources and commodities such as water, oil or energy in general as well as greenhouse gas emissions lay beyond a sustainable level already today. This situation is expected to worsen due to the rapid population growth, resulting in resource scarcity and a negative impact on the global climate. Such development trends do not only affect the region where they take place, but also the world as a whole.

However, at the same time the WANA region has the potential to contribute to solutions to global problems. To give an example, the immense potential of solar energy in the region has resulted in plans for energy plants that could not only serve the respecting countries, but even help to solve other countries’ energy problems in an environmental-friendly, resource-conserving way.

Development issues within the region
While questions around global sustainability may appear to be rather theoretical, many challenging development issues affect the lives of the people living in the WANA region every day. Among these issues are for example the very high degree of urbanization, resulting in high growth of cities and a high number of people living in insufficient conditions such as a lack of basic urban services, extremely high density, bad and often very dangerous traffic conditions, bad air quality, environmental pollution, poverty and a lacking perspectives for young people.

Institutions of different backgrounds based in the region – universities and other research or educational institutions, private companies, local authorities, NGOs, associations and networks – are trying to tackle the above-mentioned problems in many ways. Many of these institutions have been working together with different chairs from TU Berlin’s School VI in the fields of research, educations and knowledge exchange for a long time. Working together with the local partners and by that contribute to solving the above-mentioned problems is a very interesting and challenging task for the respective chairs of School VI.

Demand for education and research in the WANA region
The challenge to change development tracks into a more sustainable direction – with regards to local as well as to global sustainability – calls for innovations and improvements in education and research. In order to deal with complex development issues as described above in an appropriate way, it is necessary to develop interdisciplinary approaches and by that to improve quality in research and education.

In addition to the need for qualitative improvements, the large number of young people living in the countries of the WANA region (about half of the population is younger than 25 years) calls for additional quantitative capacities to meet existing demands. This is exactly where TU Berlin as an institution active in research and education can make a positive contribution. The different chairs can use their long-time experience in the topical fields planning, building and environment and in working together with local partners.

Benefiting at a scientific level
It has to be stressed that working together on a scientific level does not mean that only one side benefits on a scientific level. Past activities between School VI of TU Berlin and its partners from the WANA region have shown that all participating parties benefit from exchange.

On an individual level, students and staff taking part in such exchange do not only benefit from getting in touch with another culture, but of course also on a professional level. Joint activities such as research projects offer benefits for both sides as well. Such projects usually aim at the development of new technologies or approaches of relevance for the WANA region – or at the use and adjustment of existing technologies or approaches. Together with the partners, these can be tested and applied in the region which allows very valuable findings and results for both sides.

Chance for Cultural Dialogue
The relation between Arabic as well as Muslim cultures and the cultures of the western industrialized countries has been increasingly discussed in the past years, especially since the attacks by Islamic terrorists on September 11th 2001 and in subsequent years. Without any doubt, there are threats that societies as well as governments – no matter if German/European or from the WANA region – react in a way which creates a growing gap between these two cultures. In the European Union, this is illustrated by the ongoing debates about immigration and the integration of immigrants and multi-cultural diversity shows.

For that reason, the obvious need for an increased cultural dialogue between the two cultures has been on the political agenda in the past years. The home regions of these cultures – the European Union on the one hand and the WANA region on the other – are neighboring each other, making an intense dialogue inevitable. This perception has been adopted by many governments and funding institutions which have launched programs aiming at the promotion of such cultural dialogue.

Joint activities between School VI of TU Berlin and partners from the WANA region have proven that such a dialogue can easily be initiated even when working together on very practical topic. Individuals from both regions – no matter if students or professors – can learn from each other and help to foster cultural dialogue.

An interesting region to work with
After all, it has to be stressed that from the perspective of a German university, the WANA region is a very attractive place to work as local conditions offer potentials not to be found in Germany. Stagnating or even declining population as to be found in Germany and Western Europe means very limited opportunities for people working in fields that are concerned with the active development and design of human habitats, such as architects, urban designers and planners or civil engineers. For them, a region with a young, growing population, growing cities and a high building activity is very interesting and attractive.

Furthermore, the facts that the region is – for whatever reason – so much in the focus of attendance today as well as its rich history make the WANA region a very attractive region for students, scientists and researchers from TU Berlin’s School VI.

These aspects illustrate why School VI of TU Berlin is having such close collaborations with institutions and individuals the WANA region – and why the West Asia North Africa Cooperation Unit (WANACU) was established in 2006.

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