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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

  • The Role of Small Arms During the 2003–2004 Conflict in Iraq, by Riyadh Lafta et al., September 2005. Working Paper No. 1

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  • A Fragile Peace: Guns and Security in Post-Conflict Macedonia, by Suzette R. Grillot et al., commissioned by UNDP and co-published with BICC and SEESAC, June 2004. Special Report No. 4

    Download (596.88 KB)
  • Beyond the Kalashnikov: Small Arms Production, Exports, and Stockpiles in the Russian Federation, by Maxim Pyadushkin with Maria Haug and Anna Matveeva, August 2003. Occasional Paper No. 10

    Download (212.98 KB)
  • Demand, Stockpiles, and Social Controls: Small Arms in Yemen, by Derek B. Miller, May 2003. Occasional Paper No. 9 (also available in Arabic)

    Download (441.32 KB)
  • Politics from the Barrel of a Gun: Small Arms Proliferation and Conflict in the Republic of Georgia, by Spyros Demetriou, November 2002. Occasional Paper No. 6 (also available in Russian)

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