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«Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) Undesired Explosive Events in Ammunition Storage Areas i Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) Undesired Explosive Events ...»

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Explosive Remnants

of War (ERW)

Undesired Explosive Events

in Ammunition Storage Areas


Explosive Remnants

of War (ERW)

Undesired Explosive Events

in Ammunition Storage Areas


The Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) supports the efforts of

the international community in reducing the impact of mines and unexploded ordnance

(UXO). The Centre is active in research, provides operational assistance and supports the

implementation of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention.

For further information please contact:

Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining 7bis, avenue de la Paix P.O. Box 1300 CH-1211 Geneva 1 Switzerland Tel. (41 22) 906 16 60 Fax (41 22) 906 16 90 www.gichd.ch info@gichd.ch Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) - Undesired Explosive Events in Ammunition Storage Areas, GICHD, Geneva, November 2002.

ISBN 2-88487-006-7


The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the GICHD. The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do not imply the expression of the GICHD concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area, or of its authorities or armed groups, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

iii Contents Foreword 1

1. Introduction 3

2. The explosive threat in post-conflict environments 5

3. Causes of explosions in ammunition storage areas 7

4. Effects of explosions in ammunition storage areas 9

5. Analysis of data 11 Casualties 11 Causes of explosions 12 Comment 12

6. Safety of ammunition storage areas 13

7. Conclusions and recommendations 15 Appendixes

1. An approach to safe ammunition storage 17

2. Risk management 25

3. Netherlands request for information 29

4. Terms and definitions 31

5. Data on undesired

–  –  –

Skodra, Albania, March 1997. Seat of explosion of one of the explosive storehouses.

Acknowledgements This report was researched and written by Adrian Wilkinson, Head of Technology and Standards, GICHD, and Bob Scott, BARIC Consultants. Additional research was conducted by Paul Ellis, GICHD. The report was edited by Jack Glattbach and laid out for publication by Françoise Jaffré.

Cover photo: Results of ammunition storage area explosion in Lagos, Nigeria, 27 January 2002, © Major A. Welch RLC, British Army.


U nexploded ordnance and other remnants of war continue to have a detrimental effect on communities long after conflicts have ended. The mandate of the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) is to support the international community in reducing the impact of mines and unexploded ordnance. This report, Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) — Undesired Explosive Events in Ammunition Storage Areas, is a contribution to the efforts of the international community to address this important issue. It complements the previous report in the series, Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) — A Threat Analysis.

The present report identifies the risks and hazards to the local community in the postconflict environment from undesired explosive events in ammunition storage areas.

Unfortunately, only very limited quantitative evidence can be currently obtained from the post-conflict environment, therefore quantitative evidence from stockpiles of ammunition under national control in other situations is also used to illustrate the risks. The risks are broadly similar whether the stockpile is abandoned or under some form of national or international control.

The report makes no attempt to allocate responsibility for these explosive events, it uses them purely to highlight the risks to the local community. It makes specific recommendations for consideration by the international community, particularly with regard to the need to develop international standards or guidelines for the safe storage of ammunition and explosives.

This report has been prepared thanks to funding from the United Kingdom Department for International Development, which is gratefully acknowledged. The GICHD remains committed to providing technical expertise to the discussions held under the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons whenever States Parties require it.

–  –  –

I n almost all post-conflict situations, a hazard to the population exists in the form of abandoned or damaged stockpiles of ammunition. The age of conventional ammunition stockpiles, when combined with inadequate storage conditions and limited danger areas, poses a significant threat during post-conflict operations. The effects of an explosion within an ammunition storage area (ASA) are devastating, resulting in a requirement for major explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operations.

The severity of the threat to human life from blast and fragmentation depends on the proximity of the local population to the potential explosion site. Unlike unexploded ordnance (UXO), which normally affects one or more individuals, an undesired explosive event within an ASA may have an impact on the whole community; it will also result in the scattering of UXO over the surrounding areas, denying the use of that land to the local community.

ASAs constitute a major risk in a post-conflict scenario. The risk comes in three forms:

(1) the inherent danger posed by ammunition and explosives; (2) deterioration in the ammunition or the conditions under which it is being stored; and (3) the security of the site. Unsecured ammunition sites are subjected to theft of metal (i.e. brass and copper), of packing materials for fuel, and of explosives for use in fishing or hunting.

This in turn leads to the ammunition being mishandled or damaged in such a way as to make it dangerous. There is evidence from the Gulf War that individuals deliberately attacked ammunition sites with explosives after the cessation of hostilities purely out of curiosity. Until appropriately-qualified personnel have assessed an ASA, it must be considered a danger to people in the vicinity.

On numerous occasions, not only in post-conflict environments, explosions in ammunition storage areas have caused significant casualties, in both developing and developed countries.1 This study attempts to highlight and illustrate the dangers that result from an undesired explosive event within an ASA or abandoned/damaged stockpiles. Although the study covers some of the basic principles of safe ammunition storage and risk management (see Appendixes 1 and 2), it is not intended to be a definitive statement of safe ammunition and explosives storage practices in postAlbania 1997 (115 casualties), Nigeria 2002 (1,500 or more casualties).

4 Undesired Explosive Events in Ammunition Storage Areas conflict environments. These issues are discussed purely to illustrate the risks and possible solutions.

The GICHD was mandated2 to examine the issue of undesired explosions within ammunition storage areas in order to provide background information to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) process.3 The study was financed by the United Kingdom Department for International Development.

The terms of reference developed for the study were to:

(a) research the cause and effects of undesired explosive events within ASAs over the last 20 years;4 (b) attempt to identify any common factors; and (c) propose recommendations to improve future safety of ASAs in post-conflict environments.

Despite extensive literature and Internet searches it soon became apparent to the study team that limited information is available publicly. Therefore, the Netherlands Delegation to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva requested information from delegates of the States Parties to the CCW in order to try and improve the statistical data on which the study recommendations are based.5 A copy of the request is in Appendix 3.

The study discusses the factors that can lead to undesired explosions within ASAs and, where there is sufficient evidence, attempts to identify the cause of known explosions.6 In order to try to identify common factors for undesired explosive events within ASAs it was necessary to expand the search for information to include explosions occurring in non-conflict environments. Although, strictly, these events fall outside the definition of ERW, their lessons are equally valid and have been included for this reason. It can be argued that if undesired explosions occur in ASAs in non-conflict environments, the possibility of an explosion occurring in an abandoned or damaged site in a post-conflict environment, where the standards of explosive safety are likely to be very much lower, must surely be greatly increased.

2. Meeting on 19 July 2002 at the Netherlands Mission to the Conference on Disarmament as Chair of the Explosive Remnants of War Group in the context of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

3. The formal name of the international treaty is the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May be Deemed to be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects.

4. The 20-year period was chosen: (1) to try and ensure statistical validity, and (2) to try and identify if any patterns had emerged as a result of the changing international stage since the end of the Cold War.

5. This report was drafted in early November 2002 in preparation for the CCW meeting in December

2002. As at 5 November 2002, responses had been received from the following States Parties: Bulgaria, Brazil, Costa Rica, Denmark, Germany, Holy See, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Norway, and Romania.

6. There is absolutely no intention on the part of the GICHD study team to allocate or imply blame for any of the undesired explosive events referred to in this study.

2. The explosive threat in post-conflict environments

T he term “explosive remnants of war“ (ERW) could be used to describe the explosive threat to the community in a region at the end of a conflict, or at the beginning of a period of stability. ERW are generated in many ways and present a variety of hazards due to the diverse types of ammunition used. The explosive threat

in post-conflict environments can be divided into four major threat areas:

mine7 and UXO8 contamination of the ground;

(a) (b) abandoned armoured fighting vehicles (AFV);

small arms and light weapons (SALW),9 including limited ammunition and (c) explosives in the possession of civilians and non-State actors; and/or (d) abandoned and/or damaged/disrupted 10 stockpiles of ammunition 11 and explosives.12 Each of the above groups will have an impact on a population seeking to return to a normal lifestyle depending upon factors such as density of the ERW, civilian awareness of the dangers presented by the ERW, and the willingness of a proportion of the population to tamper with or even merely to live within an area affected by ERW.

Although a formal definition of ERW has still to be agreed, it has the potential to cut across all four threat areas, therefore consistency of definitions is essential to enable progress to be made towards the reduction of the threat. The terms and definitions

7. A munition designed to be placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or a vehicle. [Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention].

8. Explosive ordnance that has been primed, fuzed, armed or otherwise prepared for use or used. It may have been fired, dropped, launched or projected yet remains unexploded either through malfunction or design or for any other reason.

9. A variety of definitions for SALW have been proposed but international consensus on a “correct“ definition has yet to be achieved. For the purposes of this paper the following definition is used, “All lethal conventional munitions that can be carried by an individual combatant or a light vehicle, that also do not require a substantial logistic and maintenance capability“.

10. Stockpiles under national control may also pose an explosive threat to the community if not managed correctly, but this threat will not be considered under the ERW process.

11. A complete device charged with explosives, propellants, pyrotechnics, initiating composition, or nuclear, biological or chemical material for use in military operations, including demolitions.

12. A substance or mixture of substances, which, under external influences, is capable of rapidly releasing energy in the form of gases and heat.

6 Undesired Explosive Events in Ammunition Storage Areas used within this study are included in Appendix 4. This paper concentrates primarily on the ammunition stockpiles threat, but acknowledges the presence of other generic threat areas, which are covered in more detail in the GICHD publication Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) —A Threat Analysis.

–  –  –

T he causes of ASA explosions can be broken down into the following generic


(a) unstable ammunition;

(b) unsafe storage practices;

(c) unsafe handling practices; or

d) deliberate sabotage or acts of war.

Regrettably, the dramatic effects of an ammunition explosion normally make the key witnesses to the event its first victims. Therefore, any investigation after the event tends, by virtue of the fact that there are no direct witnesses, to concentrate on what was known of the practices and the regulations in force at the time, and may eschew imputing responsibility to the organisation involved in ensuring safety. This can lead to a conclusion that the explosion occurred as a result of factors beyond the control of that organisation. However, with the exception of deliberate sabotage/acts of war, the risk of undesired explosion for stable ammunition stored correctly and handled in a safe manner is very low indeed.

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