An independent research group says the international stockpile of small arms continues to grow. The group released its findings during a United Nations conference on the illicit small weapons trade.
The Small Arms Survey group says about seven million, mostly civilian, small weapons are produced annually. It says that number far exceeds the amount of arms removed from the weapons supply.
About 70 percent of the worldwide production comes from Russia and the United States. But people living in poorer nations in Africa, Asia and Latin American, are twice as likely to die from small arms-related violence than people in the developed world.
The survey's program manager, Peter Batchelor, said the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, predominantly women and children, are particularly damaging to developing nations.
"These deaths and injuries are not only significant in terms of the immediate human cost," he pointed out. "They also have a whole range of indirect impacts and effects that, of course, undermine a country's development prospects, and, of course, this is an important message specifically for development agencies."
The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey has released its findings for 2002 to coincide with a week-long, first-ever, conference on the issue at the United Nations. Governments, U.N. agencies and non-governmental organizations are considering ways to implement a two-year old plan to eradicate the illicit small arms trade.
Researcher Paul Batchelor said President Bush's trip to Africa, where civilians continue to perish in deadly conflicts and where a lack of security hinders aid workers, underscores the danger of small arms.
He added that the proliferation of weapons is also endangering post-war reconstruction in Angola, Afghanistan, Kosovo and, most recently, Iraq.
"And so the availability and misuse of these weapons makes it difficult not only to restore law and order, also to achieve security and stability, but also obviously undermines the ability to achieve the goals of post-conflict reconstruction," said Mr. Batchelor.
The Small Arms Survey provides an in-depth study of small weapons in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Georgia and Yemen. Researchers found that the European Union and North America account for about 90 percent of small weapons exports. But they say, despite perceptions of a weapons-free society, the European Union dominates the small weapons trade.
The analysts point out that there is a gap in information because there are no statistics from China. China is believed to be a major world producer of small arms. Chinese weapons have appeared in Africa, but it is unclear whether the exports are legal.