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An ambulance passes a scout camping site during the World Scout Jamboree in Buan, South Korea Jeonbuk Fire Station/Yonhap via AP
South Korea

American and British scouts abandon jamboree in South Korea due to heatwave

An extreme heatwave has seen hundreds of scouts fall ill, forcing the government to deploy military doctors,

AMERICAN AND BRITISH scouts pulled out of the World Scout Jamboree in South Korea today citing scorching temperatures, as organisers vowed the event would continue despite criticism of dire campsite conditions.

About 43,000 people have joined the jamboree in North Jeolla province, but an extreme heatwave has seen hundreds of scouts fall ill, forcing Seoul to deploy military doctors, offer air-conditioned buses and vow an all-out effort to salvage the event.

American and British scout groups were withdrawing today, citing concerns over the extreme weather, even as organisers said the jamboree would continue, urging participants to view the event as a “platform for overcoming challenges”.

Five of the 222-strong Irish group of scouts are understood to have been unwell yesterday but have recovered.

In a statement, Scouting Ireland said it would “assess the situation in Korea on a daily and as-required basis”.

The South Korean government conducted spot inspections at the site and found conditions were no longer as dire as had been claimed, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said, adding that after discussions with participating countries, “we decided to continue the event without stopping”.

With widespread reports of rudimentary bathrooms and substandard sanitation, Kim Hyun-sook, South Korea’s gender minister, told reporters Seoul would “add about 700 personnel today to address the issue of toilet cleaning”.

The World Organization of the Scout Movement had called on South Korea to shorten the event – scheduled to run until 12 August in the coastal town of Buan – pointing to issues caused by extreme weather.

South Korea this week issued its highest hot weather advisory for the first time in four years.

Citing heat concerns, American officials said that about 1,500 US scouts would go to Camp Humphreys, a US Army garrison in Pyeongtaek.

Scouts from the United Kingdom – the largest group at around 4,000 – began arriving back in the capital Seoul today, in what officials said was a bid to “alleviate pressure on the site”.

Singaporean scouts were also planning to leave and Belgian officials were looking for alternative accommodation, Yonhap news agency reported.

But Swedish and German scout groups said they were staying, saying that conditions at the vast campsite were “moving in the right direction” after a “major resources boost” from the South Korean government.

“For the 1,500 Swedish young people we have here, the Jamboree is a unique experience. You only have one chance in your life to join a Jamboree as a participant,” the Swedish scout group said in a statement.

“To stop participation is to deprive the young people of that chance,” it said.

embeddedaeb4ffdfd70143e38e542d4c723a4a8b Attendees of the World Scout Jamboree rest under the shade at the scout camping site in Buan, South Korea

‘It’s so hot’ 

Thousands of pink, yellow and green tents stretched across the giant campsite, AFP reporters in Buan saw, as residents flocked to the area eager to help the scouts in the heat.

“The weather is too hot, so I came here with my kids to give out iced water,” business owner Han Tae-min told AFP from near the jamboree welcome centre, as he pressed cold water on passing scouts.

“I was also a scout when I was young,” the 33-year-old said, adding he was eager to help because “it is exceptionally hot this year, and the event is taking place in this extreme heat”.

Despite the government’s efforts, some parents continued to criticise organisers, with one Korean-American mother, whose 15-year-old daughter lost consciousness during the event, saying it took a “terrifying” 45 minutes for an ambulance to arrive.

“How can South Korea allow children to be neglected like this?” she told South Korean broadcaster SBS.

The Jamboree’s official Instagram page was flooded with critical comments, with one set of parents saying the event had been “a horrible experience” for the scouts.

A British scout at the event posted footage from the site on a YouTube channel called “Jamboree Jamie”, sharing a video of what looked like mosquitos flying constantly in rudimentary shower booths.

“It’s too hot, it’s too hot. Anyway, this is my third bottle of water,” he says in the video, adding he agreed, in part, that the event had been “poorly organised”.

New tours for scouts

The exit of British, American and other scout troops is a significant PR setback for the South Korean government, which on Friday called an emergency cabinet meeting and mobilised aid.

President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office approved 6.9 billion won (€4.8 million) in spending to support the jamboree, and spoke by phone to camp organisers today, urging them to offer more tourism programmes to the scouts.

Prime Minister Han said today that organisers would “create and operate a tour program featuring South Korea’s industry, culture, history, and nature”.

Local media has described the situation as a “national disgrace”, given the time the country had to prepare for the event, which happens once every four years.

 – © AFP 2023

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