THE tragedy unfolding in Equatorial Guinea, where scores have been killed or are missing and injured following a devastating explosion, is a reminder that accidental detonations of explosive stockpiles are a global problem. 

Research conducted by the Small Arms Survey indicates such incidents are not just widespread but increasingly common: the Survey recorded more than 623 incidents in at least 106 countries and territories between 1979 and December 2019. 

The Guinea disaster comes just seven months after the Beirut port blast, which left more than 200 dead and thousands injured and homeless when a large ammonium nitrate store exploded in the city. 

MAG has been delivering ammunition safety management projects for some 15 years, in collaboration with State authorities, to help reduce the incidence of such explosions. It has also responded to emergencies to prevent further loss of life following explosions.

The immediate aftermath of the tragedy in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo

In 2012, for instance, MAG played a key part in the emergency response to a massive explosion in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, which killed over 500 people. MAG also helped to keep munitions safe in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

There are numerous depots across the globe where authorities store various state-held weapons and munitions, sometimes in poor conditions. The cause of such explosions can include lightning, electrical faults, degrading and unstable munitions and poor management practice.

Weapons and ammunition are often stored in or near built-up areas. As we have once again seen, unplanned explosions can have devastating consequences, causing mass death and injury as well as destroying homes and community infrastructure.

The technical support and physical rehabilitation operations implemented by MAG and others can significantly reduce the risk of unplanned explosions.

Risk strategies incorporating technical assessment, socioeconomic survey, physical security improvements and training in better management of  weapons and munitions stockpiles are a key part of our work in many countries but more international support is required if we are to prevent such tragedies in future.

The suffering and damage caused by these incidents underlines the importance of storing munitions and explosives safely and also the importance of providing states with the right support that can enable them to do so.

The aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013