In 2002, a fire at a military facility in Lagos, Nigeria ignited a munitions storage depot, setting off a series of explosions in one of Africa’s largest cities. At first, many thought the pop of ammunition was yet another military coup but as “sporadic explosions gave way to artillery shells and mortars raining down over thousands of homes”, people began to panic. Hundreds fled to escape the onslaught. Some were trampled. When the fires were finally contained, at least a thousand people had been killed.
The Lagos Incident, as the disaster came to be called, is just one of many that have come of the proliferation of global munitions stockpiles. Since 1979, there have been more than 500 accidental explosions in 34 countries.
Unplanned explosions are, unfortunately, just the beginning when it comes to the problems created by the global supply of weapons. Governments and armed forces everywhere have massive stockpiles of bombs, missiles, and other arms. From war-torn nations to stable ones like Sweden, these stockpiles can become the target of criminals and terrorists. These bad actors may requisition them for either their personal use or for sale on the black market.
Moreover, as nations experience economic or political collapse, the costs to safely maintain, secure and/or dispose of these stockpiles can be prohibitive. Often, agencies like the UN come in with injections of financial support to fund such efforts.
While these weapons pose an obvious danger to the places in which they’re stored, another area of concern is their environmental impact. Explosions can render whole swaths of land inhospitable to life (or farming) for years, permanently affecting the health of the region’s people and economy.
In light of these concerns, the UN passed its first ever resolution in 2003, encouraging states to enhance the security of their stockpiles and, when appropriate, invest in demilitarization — the process of dismantling weapons and rendering them inert.
While we must commend the UN for their commitment to reduce global weapon stockpiles, when it comes to quantifying the size and scope of this task, good data is hard to come by.
Stockpiles are difficult to tally, both regionally and globally. Government agencies either try to obfuscate details of their stockpiles or have lost track of their locations all together.
Budgeting—and, therefore, receiving approval for—a demilitarization project is also difficult as there can be great differences in costs, depending on the site’s location. Some countries are more expensive than others, and the specific location of a depot can affect the cost, dependent upon how easily demilitarization teams can bring necessary resources to the job site or transfer munitions to a disposal facility.
Despite these accounting uncertainties, The Small Arms Survey, a watchdog group focused on preventing and dismantling munitions stockpiles, provided some sample demilitarization costs based on actual projects. Overall, the going rate is about $1,000-$1,500 per ton of unexploded munitions.
In cases where munitions had detonated, the cost of environmental cleanup 4 or 8 times the original cost. In other words, it is far less expensive to demilitarize a stockpile than to wait for it to explode.
The report appears to underestimate these costs, however, as many of the projects they cite are in areas of relative easy access. Sometimes munitions stockpiles are hidden within sweltering jungles or are quite far from civilization. The relative difficulty of accessing these locations only complicates the project and increases costs.
Fortunately, a Propel(x) company has developed a method to bring greater safety and efficiency to this process.
Founded in 2011 by long-time landmine removal advocate, Arpana Ghandi, Disarmco is on a mission to deconstruct and dispose of munitions the world over. The company has spent the last several years locating and deactivating landmines and other “personnel-activated weapons”.
Landmines are a particularly egregious outcome of war. Originally, they were used strategically on the battlefield, designed to keep enemy tanks out of friendly territory. Over the decades, however, armies increasingly used landmines offensively, delighting in the chaos, fear, and uncertainty they brought to a conflict.
The US government rained such anti-personnel mines over Laos in the ‘60s. Today, there may be as many as 80 million unexploded bombs scattered throughout the southeast Asian nation.
Laos is one of countless places in which hidden and unexploded landmines cause a constant disruption to the sanctity and security of its people. In addition to causing injury and death, landmines, when detonated, wreck environmental havoc on land that might otherwise be used to grow food. Similarly, mines prevent developing nations from accessing and capitalizing upon their natural resources. The World Bank estimates that Laos has tons of untapped natural resources. However, accessibility to these sites are always slowed and complicated by the possibility that a mine may be hidden in the weeds.
In order to tackle this major humanitarian crisis, Disarmco developed several pyrotechnical solutions to dispose of a wide range of individual munitions such as landmines, naval mines, IEDs, grenades, torpedoes, and artillery projectiles. These solutions have already been deployed throughout the world.
More recently, the company has turned its efforts toward the controlled destruction of weapons stockpiles and are seeking additional capital to fund and deploy this additional technology.
Their goal is to build the first mobile Ammunition Disposal Facility, or ADF for short. Per the company’s description, ADF is an anti-weapons factory of sorts. It fits on the back of a truck and can support a team working to dismantle a stockpile of munitions. What differentiates their method from others in this space is that the ADF uses a saw—and not a pressurized jet of water—to cut through and destroy the weapons.
Currently, most methods for dismantling munitions use highly pressurized water to cut through metal casings and render weapons inert. Without easy access to a municipal water supply, however, teams must either truck-in water to the stockpile or bring munitions to a water supply.
Both of these options increase costs and risks.
Furthermore, water, once deployed in this process, brings with it its own environmental consequences. As it blasts through TNT and explosives, it creates a byproduct known as pink water. Pink water is highly toxic and difficult to process.
By contrast, Disarmco’s new system will allow for the remote destruction of munitions without the need for water. Furthermore, only a handful of people would be needed on site to complete the project.
Overall, their vision is to deploy this technology globally to bring about the destruction of these dangerous caches.
As mentioned, Disarmco is in the middle of a funding round here on the Propel(x) platform. If you are an accredited angel investor who would like to learn more about Disarmco and the Ammunition Disposal Facility, please sign up below.
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