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Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites

* Updated 16 June 2014 (data covering January 1979 to December 2013)

Unplanned explosions at munitions sites (UEMS) are a global problem. A single UEMS incident often results in dozens of casualties and millions of dollars in damages to nearby buildings, infrastructure and homes. Recent research reveals that these incidents are quite common.

In June 2014 the Survey published a 35-year global review of UEMS incidents, a handbook titled Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites (UEMS): Assets rather than Liabilities.

The study provides a comprehensive analysis of UEMS incidents occurring from 1979 to 2013. The data reveals that the UEMS phenomenon is both widespread and increasingly common. From 1979 to 2013, 507 incidents of this nature have been recorded in 99 countries (plus the Palestinian Territories), affecting almost half of UN member states, and covering every continent except Antarctica.

The frequency of UEMS incidents has risen dramatically over the course of the last 35-plus years (see Figure 1). During the 1980s the Survey recorded an average of 4.3 events per year. Since then, the average yearly number of incidents has risen dramatically, to 11.3 during the 1990s and then doubling to 23.9 from 2000 onwards. Since 2010, the Survey has recorded an average of 26.8 events per year.

Certainly some of this rise in frequency is explained by improved global reporting and media coverage. However, aging ammunition and poor ammunition management practices, despite national and international efforts to address these problems, have contributed to this increase (see Publications below).

In addition to incident analysis, the UEMS Handbook is designed to assist policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers working on the topic by detailing the activities of the key actors working on PSSM programmes, providing an annotated bibliography of the major publications, and introducing a reporting template to help establish systematic reporting criteria for UEMS incidents.

A chapter in Small Arms Survey 2014: Women and Guns, entitled 'Countdown to Catastrophe', complements the findings of an EU-commissioned evaluation of the effectiveness of the post-blast clearance and risk education activities in and around Mpila. It  builds on the EU evaluation report, published in March 2013, but widens the perspective to focus on: (i) the long-term ammunition procurement and stockpiling practices that led to the explosions, and (ii) the direct and indirect consequences of the blasts on the city’s population, the country’s finances, and government policy.

The UEMS database remains an on-going Small Arms Survey project. New incidents are added as they occur and reported on. Data is also retroactively added or amended as new, credible information is uncovered. Revisions to the database therefore can occur in between the periodic updating of the website. For more information on UEMS and the UEMS project please see the following links:



This page will be routinely updated. For additional information and to report incidents not listed, please contact Small Arms Survey Researcher Benjamin King: benjamin.king(at)smallarmssurvey(dot)org



  • Bevan, James and Adrian Wilkinson. 2008. ‘Glossary of Conventional Ammunition Terminology.’ In James Bevan, ed. Conventional Ammunition in Surplus: A Reference Guide. Geneva: Small Arms Survey, pp. xix–xxxiii.
  • Small Arms Survey. Forthcoming. ‘Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites database’. Geneva: Small Arms Survey.
  • UNODA (United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs). 2011. ‘International Ammunition Technical Guidelines: Glossary of terms, definitions and abbreviations.’ (ATG 01.40). First edition. New York: UNODA. October.
  • Wilkinson, Adrian. 2011. ‘The threat from explosive events in ammunition storage areas’. Edition No. 2, May. Kent: Explosive Capabilities Limited.
  • Zahaczewsky, George. 2011. ‘Major Ammunition Accidents – Compilation of events from 1917 to 2011’. Unpublished document.


 *Small Arms Survey (Forthcoming).

Figure Number of Recorded UEMS by Year, 1979—2014

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