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Unplanned Explosions at Munitions Sites

* Updated 4 March 2015 (data covering January 1979 to October 2015)

Unplanned explosions at munitions sites (UEMS) are a global problem. The Small Arms Survey defines UEMS as the accidental explosion of stockpiles of ammunition and explosives at storage sites, whether the stockpiles are properly stored or are abandoned, damaged, or improperly stored.

A single UEMS incident often results in dozens of casualties and millions of dollars in damages to nearby buildings, infrastructure, and homes. Recent research conducted by the Survey reveals that these incidents are widespread and increasingly common. Between 1979 and 2015, the Survey recorded 528 UEMS incidents in 101 countries and territories, affecting more than half of UN member states, and covering every continent except Antarctica (see Table 1).

The frequency of UEMS incidents has risen dramatically over the course of the last 36 years (see Figure 1). During the 1980s the Survey recorded an average of over four incidents events per year. Since then, the average yearly count has risen dramatically. Since 2000, the yearly average has increased to more than 24. Certainly some of this rise in frequency is explained by an increase in global reporting and media coverage. However, ageing ammunition and poor ammunition management practices, despite national and international efforts to address these problems, have contributed to this increase (see UEMS Publications and Resources).

In June 2014 the Survey released the UEMS Handbook, a 35-year global review of UEMS incidents. The study provides a comprehensive analysis of UEMS incidents occurring from 1979 to 2013. 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 engaged with PSSM programmes. It provides an annotated bibliography of the major research on the topic, and introduces the incident reporting template (IRT) to help establish systematic reporting criteria for UEMS incidents.

The IRT serves to help governments, reporters, or anyone investigating UEMS incidents to better document those events. It lays out the critical information needed to further our analysis and understanding of the UEMS phenomenon. Those investigating incidents are encouraged to alert the Survey of these events and submit IRT reports to the UEMS point of contact below.

The UEMS database remains an on-going Small Arms Survey project. New incidents are added as they occur. Data is also retroactively added or amended as new, credible information is uncovered. Revisions to the database therefore sometimes occur between the periodic updates to 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:



  • 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—2015

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