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Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites

Since 1979 over 500 events involving unplanned explosions at munitions sites were recorded. The Small Arms Survey has released online detailed findings from its Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites (UEMS) database, providing information on the location, causes and casualties of each incident.

For up-to-date information, see the Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites pages.

State Stockpiles

Government-owned small arms inventories are a major small arms category, covering some 200 million military small arms and about 25 million among law enforcement agencies. These also form the largest category stored in coherent stockpiles.

The basic sources and techniques for enumerating state arsenals include: reports from governments, production reports, and estimates based on the number of personnel and operational doctrine. Because only a handful of governments release comprehensive information on their inventories, and procurement reports tend to be incomplete, most countries’ official arsenals must be estimated. In lieu of reliable reports of actual inventories, law enforcement agencies are typically estimated at 1.2 firearms per sworn officer, unless reports indicate actual inventories differ. Military inventories are taken from official sources and procurement reports, or estimated based on statical correlation with comparable and better-known cases. Military estimation multipliers typically range from 1.8 to 4.8 firearms per soldier, and less for other armed services and reserves.

While civilian weapons are distributed among millions of owners, official weapons, especially military weapons, often are stockpiled. This puts them at great risk, vulnerable to theft and diversion. Loss of individual small arms—through theft (by outsiders) or pilferage (by members of the armed forces or law enforcement agencies)—is a universal problem. Massive hemorrhaging in catastrophic incidents is rare but always possible. Well-known examples include hundreds of thousands of weapons lost by the Russian Federation’s Red Army in the 1990s, through looting in Albania in 1997, and during transfers of US supplies to Iraq in 2004–06. Millions more were lost in Iraq after the invasion and collapse of authority in 2003.

Unplanned explosions are another risk associated with stockpiles. Since 1998, incidents of this nature—often causng extensive damage, injury, and loss of life—have been reported in more than a third of UN Member States and on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. According to the forthcoming Small Arms Survey UEMS database, the rate has increased in recent years to more than one every two weeks.



Small Arms Survey Publications

  • A Practical Guide to Life-cycle Management of Ammunition, by Jovana Carapic, Eric J. Deschambault, Paul Holtom, and Benjamin King, April 2018. Handbook No. 5. 

    Download (2.26 MB)
  • Sustainable Stockpile Management in Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Role of EUFOR Mobile Training Team for Weapons and Ammunition Management, by Jovana Carapic, Prasenjit Chaudhuri, and Pierre Gobinet, October 2016. Working Paper No. 24.

    Download (907.45 KB)
  • Facilitating PSSM Assistance in the Sahel and Beyond: Introducing the PSSM Priorities Matrix, December 2016. Issue Brief No. 18 (also available in French).

    Download (271.55 KB)
  • Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites (UEMS): Excess Stockpiles as Liabilities rather than Assets, edited by Eric G. Berman and Pilar Reina, June 2014. Handbook No. 3

    More information
  • Following the Thread: Arms and Ammunition Tracing in Sudan and South Sudan, by Jonah Leff and Emile LeBrun, May 2014. Working Paper No. 32. (Also in Arabic)

  • Small Arms of the Indian State: A Century of Procurement and Production, January 2014. India Armed Violence Assessment Issue Brief No. 4 (also available in Hindi).

  • Data Sources and the Estimation of Military-owned Small Arms, September 2013. Research Note No. 34, Armed Actors (see Annexe).

    Download (560.21 KB)
  • Making a Mark: Reporting on Firearms Marking in the RECSA Region, by James Bevan and Benjamin King, a joint publication of Regional Centre on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States, and the Small Arms Survey; with support from the US Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement. April 2013. Special Report No. 19.

    Download (687.73 KB)
  • Estimating Law Enforcement Firearms, December 2012. Research Note No. 24, Armed Actors (see Annexe)

    Download (139.48 KB)
  • Significant Surpluses: Weapons and Ammunition Stockpiles in South-east Europe, by Pierre Gobinet, a joint publication of the Regional Approach for Stockpile Reduction, the US Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, and the Small Arms Survey, December 2011. Special Report No. 13

    Download (2.25 MB)
  • Safer Stockpiles: Practitioners’ Experiences with Physical Security and Stockpile Management (PSSM) Assistance Programmes, edited by Benjamin King, April 2011. Occasional Paper No. 27

    Download (965.63 KB)
  • Scraping the Barrel: The Trade in Surplus Ammunition, April 2011. Issue Brief No. 2.

    Download (1.6 MB)
  • Supply and Demand: Arms Flows and Holdings in Sudan, December 2009. HSBA Issue Brief No. 15 (also available in Arabic)

  • Surplus Arms in South America: A Survey, by Aaron Karp, a study by the Small Arms Survey in cooperation with the Conflict Analysis Resource Center (CERAC), August 2009. Working Paper No. 7 (also available in Spanish and Portuguese)

    Download (433.14 KB)
  • The Politics of Destroying Surplus Small Arms - Inconspicuous Disarmament, edited by Aaron Karp, published by Routledge, July 2009.

    More information
  • The Central African Republic and Small Arms: A Regional Tinderbox, by Eric G. Berman with Louisa N. Lombard, December 2008 (also available in French).

    More information
  • Blowback: Kenya's Illicit Ammunition Problem in Turkana North District, by James Bevan, June 2008. Occasional Paper No. 22 (Executive Summary also available)

    Download (2.34 MB)
  • Conventional Ammunition in Surplus: A Reference Guide, edited by James Bevan, co-published with BICC, FAS, GRIP, and SEESAC with support from the German Federal Foreign Office, January 2008.

    More information
  • Small Arms in Burundi: Disarming the Civilian Population in Peacetime, by Stéphanie Pézard and Nicolas Florquin, a study by the Small Arms Survey and the Ligue Iteka with support from UNDP–Burundi and Oxfam–NOVIB, August 2007. Special Report No. 7 (also available in French)

    Download (2.97 MB)
  • The Militarization of Sudan: a Preliminary Review of Arms Flows and Holdings, April 2007. HSBA Issue Brief No. 6 (also available in Arabic)

  • The South Sudan Defence Forces in the Wake of the Juba Declaration, by John Young, November 2006. Working Paper No. 1 (also available in Arabic)

  • The Three Ds: Disposal, Demilitarization, and Destruction of Ammunition, by Adrian Wilkinson, 2006. In Stéphanie Pézard and Holger Anders, eds. Targeting Ammunition: A Primer.

    Download (1.62 MB)
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Other Publications

  • Berman, Eric and Pilar Reina. 2012. 'Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites: Concerns and Consequences', in The Journal of ERW and Mine Action. Issue 16.2, July.

    More information
  • Wood, David. 2006. SALW Survey of Moldova. Belgrade: SEESAC

  • Rynn, Simon, Philip Gounev, and Thomas Jackson. 2005. Taming the Arsenal: Small Arms and Light Weapons in Bulgaria. Belgrade: SEESAC.

  • Gould, Chandré and Guy Lamb, eds. 2004. Hide and Seek: Taking Account of Small Arms in Southern Africa. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.

    More information
  • Gounev, Philip, et al. 2004. Weapons under Scrutiny: Implementing Arms Export Controls and Combating Small Arms Proliferation in Bulgaria. London: Saferworld.

  • United States General Accounting Office. 2003. Firearms Controls: Federal Agencies Have Firearms Controls, but Could Strengthen Controls in Key Areas

  • Gorjanc, Milan. 2002. Small Arms and Light Weapons' Possible Contribution to the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe. Unpublished Conference Paper. Ljubljana. 27 January.

  • Nassauer, Otfried. 1995. An Army Surplus: The NVA’s Heritage. BICC Brief 3. Bonn: BICC.

    More information
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