A Nepalese resident sits near collapsed and damaged buildings on Sunday. Photo: Getty
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Kathmandu mourns earthquake's victims and continues search for survivors

It is now estimated that the death toll could reach ten thousand.

This Saturday, a massive earthquake hit Nepal. As of this morning, the death toll was above 4,000, and over 6,500 others have been injured. While the earthquake's epicentre lay somewhere between Kathmandu, the country's capital, and Pokhara, a village to its west, there were casualties across the country's borders into China and India. 

The tremors only lasted for about a minute, but the quake's high magnitude – which, at 7.8, was higher than 2010's Haiti earthquake – meant that buildings across Kathmandu were flattened, while almost every home in Pokhara was destroyed. In the Himalayas and nearby settlements, the tremors caused landslides and avalanches. Many who were trekking in the mountains at the time of the quake are still missing. In the Kathmandu Valley, at least four of the area's seven UNESCO heritage sites have been badly damaged. 

Kathmandu lies on what scientists call "an area of high seismic activity". The same tectonic plates that smashed together to create some of the world's tallest mountains cause earthquakes when they shift and rub together; as a result, the area experiences a serious quake around every 70 to 80 years. The last, in 1934, killed over 10,000 people. Since then, the city's massive expansion has brought with it an explosion informal housing and communities built with little regard for building codes and earthquake resistance. It's only in the past ten years that municipal and national governments have rolled out risk management plans. The Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium, for example, set about retrofitting schools and hospitals for natural disasters from 2009. 

This latest quake, however, shows that's there's still much more to be done. Alongside its rebuilding efforts, the city needs to invest in earthquake-ready buildings, and regulations which would make them standard across the city. In December we published this article, by Nepalese journalist Rubeena Mahato, looking at both the expansion of Kathmandu, and its earthquake readiness; it's well worth a few minutes of your time.

Below are some pictures of the earthquake's aftermath. You can donate to relief efforts through Oxfam, the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders or Save the Children

Residents inspect a crack in a major road. 

A member of the Nepalese security forces sets up a tent in Bhaktapur on the outskirts of Kathmandu

Reidents gather around the collapsed Dharahara tower

A helicopter rescues the injured from Everest base camp

A resident plays with his daughter as he is treated for injuries

A Buddha statue is surrounded by debris from a collapsed temple in the UNESCO world heritage site of Bhaktapur

A Dutch search and rescue team with tracker dogs get ready to search for survivors

A collapsed temple in Kathmandu's city centre

All images: Getty

This article first appeared on the New Statesman’s sister site CityMetric.

Citymetric is the New Statesman’s sister site covering the business, politics, design and transport of the world’s cities.

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Find the EU renegotiation demands dull? Me too – but they are important

It's an old trick: smother anything in enough jargon and you can avoid being held accountable for it.

I don’t know about you, but I found the details of Britain’s European Union renegotiation demands quite hard to read. Literally. My eye kept gliding past them, in an endless quest for something more interesting in the paragraph ahead. It was as if the word “subsidiarity” had been smeared in grease. I haven’t felt tedium quite like this since I read The Lord of the Rings and found I slid straight past anything written in italics, reasoning that it was probably another interminable Elvish poem. (“The wind was in his flowing hair/The foam about him shone;/Afar they saw him strong and fair/Go riding like a swan.”)

Anyone who writes about politics encounters this; I call it Subclause Syndrome. Smother anything in enough jargon, whirr enough footnotes into the air, and you have a very effective shield for protecting yourself from accountability – better even than gutting the Freedom of Information laws, although the government seems quite keen on that, too. No wonder so much of our political conversation ends up being about personality: if we can’t hope to master all the technicalities, the next best thing is to trust the person to whom we have delegated that job.

Anyway, after 15 cups of coffee, three ice-bucket challenges and a bottle of poppers I borrowed from a Tory MP, I finally made it through. I didn’t feel much more enlightened, though, because there were notable omissions – no mention, thankfully, of rolling back employment protections – and elsewhere there was a touching faith in the power of adding “language” to official documents.

One thing did stand out, however. For months, we have been told that it is a terrible problem that migrants from Europe are sending child benefit to their families back home. In future, the amount that can be claimed will start at zero and it will reach full whack only after four years of working in Britain. Even better, to reduce the alleged “pull factor” of our generous in-work benefits regime, the child benefit rate will be paid on a ratio calculated according to average wages in the home country.

What a waste of time. At the moment, only £30m in child benefit is sent out of the country each year: quite a large sum if you’re doing a whip round for a retirement gift for a colleague, but basically a rounding error in the Department for Work and Pensions budget.

Only 20,000 workers, and 34,000 children, are involved. And yet, apparently, this makes it worth introducing 28 different rates of child benefit to be administered by the DWP. We are given to understand that Iain Duncan Smith thinks this is barmy – and this is a man optimistic enough about his department’s computer systems to predict in 2013 that 4.46 million people would be claiming Universal Credit by now*.

David Cameron’s renegotiation package was comprised exclusively of what Doctor Who fans call handwavium – a magic substance with no obvious physical attributes, which nonetheless helpfully advances the plot. In this case, the renegotiation covers up the fact that the Prime Minister always wanted to argue to stay in Europe, but needed a handy fig leaf to do so.

Brace yourself for a sentence you might not read again in the New Statesman, but this makes me feel sorry for Chris Grayling. He and other Outers in the cabinet have to wait at least two weeks for Cameron to get the demands signed off; all the while, Cameron can subtly make the case for staying in Europe, while they are bound to keep quiet because of collective responsibility.

When that stricture lifts, the high-ranking Eurosceptics will at last be free to make the case they have been sitting on for years. I have three strong beliefs about what will happen next. First, that everyone confidently predicting a paralysing civil war in the Tory ranks is doing so more in hope than expectation. Some on the left feel that if Labour is going to be divided over Trident, it is only fair that the Tories be split down the middle, too. They forget that power, and patronage, are strong solvents: there has already been much muttering about low-level blackmail from the high command, with MPs warned about the dire influence of disloyalty on their career prospects.

Second, the Europe campaign will feature large doses of both sides solemnly advising the other that they need to make “a positive case”. This will be roundly ignored. The Remain team will run a fear campaign based on job losses, access to the single market and “losing our seat at the table”; Leave will run a fear campaign based on the steady advance of whatever collective noun for migrants sounds just the right side of racist. (Current favourite: “hordes”.)

Third, the number of Britons making a decision based on a complete understanding of the renegotiation, and the future terms of our membership, will be vanishingly small. It is simply impossible to read about subsidiarity for more than an hour without lapsing into a coma.

Yet, funnily enough, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just as the absurd complexity of policy frees us to talk instead about character, so the onset of Subclause Syndrome in the EU debate will allow us to ask ourselves a more profound, defining question: what kind of country do we want Britain to be? Polling suggests that very few of us see ourselves as “European” rather than Scottish, or British, but are we a country that feels open and looks outwards, or one that thinks this is the best it’s going to get, and we need to protect what we have? That’s more vital than any subclause. l

* For those of you keeping score at home, Universal Credit is now allegedly going to be implemented by 2021. Incidentally, George Osborne has recently discovered that it’s a great source of handwavium; tax credit cuts have been postponed because UC will render such huge savings that they aren’t needed.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle