Deadly Blast at the Storage Site in Brazzaville, Congo

At least 200 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured by the blast which took place at the ammunition storage in Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo, on Sunday 3 March 2012. The reports say that a short-circuit led to a fire which quickly spread throughout the storage site. Frequent explosions continued for hours on early Sunday morning, causing extensive damage to both Brazzaville, the Republic of the Congo, and Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It will take weeks and months to assess the damage of the explosions while the number of killed and injured people grows by the hour.

The frequency of such disasters all around the world is alarming. There are several reasons why such incidents occur. Primarily, the lack of technical knowledge, appropriate management and disregard for safety standards allow for a deterioration of systems at the ammunition storage sites. Additionally, more than half of all expositions and incidents are caused by the poor infrastructure of storage sites.

According to the UN International Ammunition Technical Guidelines, Eastern Europe is an area of particular concern due to the significant existing surpluses, many of which are well past their safe storage life. SEESAC helps national governments in South Eastern Europe to strengthen management capacities as well as improve infrastructure of SALW storage facilities.

SEESAC has developed several training modules on planning and managing stockpile locations, inventory management and accounting control measures and transport security for officials responsible for material resources. Over 40 operation level officials from the security ministries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia benefited from the training.

Additionally, in order to tackle the threat posed by the lack of security of stockpile locations, SEESAC supported improvement of the storage sites in Montenegro (Taras) and Croatia (MURAT). Other projects of this kind are currently ongoing in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia where 5 storage sites are earmarked for renovation.

The destruction of surplus stocks is also an effective way to increase security and diminish the risks of unexpected explosion. SEESAC has provided technical advice and assistance for the development and implementation of safe, efficient and effective destruction initiatives across the South Eastern and Eastern Europe region. Most recently SEESAC supported government of Serbia and government of Croatia in their destruction activities during which 55,000 and 22,000 SALW were destroyed, respectively. These activities are supported by the Council of the European Union which passed EU Council Decision 2010/179/CFSP on 11 March 2010 in Support of SEESAC arms control activities in the Western Balkans within the framework of the EU Strategy to combat the illicit accumulation and trafficking of SALW and their ammunition.

Through its activities, SEESAC has supported regional efforts to address the threats posed by excess, unstable, loosely secured or otherwise at-risk stockpiles of SALW and ammunition and in turn helped prevent accidents such as that in Congo. However, there still exists the need for further technical and infrastructural assistance to ensure the effective stockpile management, and the destruction of surplus ammunition. SEESAC will continue to cooperate with countries in South-eastern Europe with that purpose in mind.