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Thursday, 21 February, 2002, 16:16 GMT
Hi-tech tents tackle Afghan cold
Afghan refugees erecting tents, AP
Tents are home to hundreds of thousands
test hello test

By BBC News Online's Ivan Noble
Thousands of refugee deaths from hypothermia could be prevented every year if a new hi-tech UK-designed tent lining performs well in tests in Afghanistan.

A team from the University of Cambridge has developed linings for existing refugee tents that will pay for themselves in saved heating costs in one winter.

"They are made of a sandwich of materials: polyester wadding like you'd find in a puffa jacket and a cheap breathable waterproof membrane," explains Joseph Ashmore, the team member who is leaving for Afghanistan on 7 March.

The tent linings have already been tested in cold stores in Britain and a car manufacturer's wind tunnel was used to simulate a force six gale, he told BBC News Online.

Preventable deaths

But the real test is going to be how the new linings, which are to cost 100 dollars each in volume production, stand up to real life use in Herat, Afghanistan.

Cambridge researchers display their tent liner, EPSRC
University of Cambridge researchers developed the liner for UNHCR
The prototypes will be used for a year before Mr Ashmore returns to see how they have held up.

Britain's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which partly funded the research, says hundreds of refugees died from hypothermia in one camp alone on the Afghan border last winter.

Thousands more around the world have died of respiratory diseases and infections caused by living in damp and freezing conditions, it says.

Fuel savings

Refugee tents are made in countries where labour costs are low and then stockpiled ready to cope with disasters and war.

The Cambridge team set out to find a way of improving conditions for hundreds of thousands of refugees at a cost that was affordable for relief agencies.

Improving insulation in tents means that refugees will need to find up to 75% less fuel, saving them either money or time collecting firewood.

See also:

21 Feb 02 | South Asia
Food reaches Afghanistan's desperate
19 Feb 02 | South Asia
Fresh Afghan influx into Pakistan
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