Scout’s horror: Extreme heat, poor sanitation upend world jamboree in South Korea

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The Scouts’ motto is “be prepared”, but the organisers of the movement’s global gathering are under pressure to cancel the event, as countries pull out due to struggles with extreme heat and bad conditions.

The World Scout Jamboree in South Korea has been rocked by poor sanitation, food shortages and soaring temperatures, with more than 150 attendees admitted to an onsite hospital for heat-related illnesses.

World Scout Jamboree attendees rest in the shade at the camping site in South Korea on Friday.Credit: AP

Temperatures hit 34C in Saemangeum on South Korea’s west coast, where about 40,000 participants – mostly scouts aged 14 to 18 – were camping as of Friday.

Australia sent more than 900 members of the Scout community – including about 700 children – to North Jeolla province for the event. While the Australians have mostly avoided the heat exhaustion and sickness affecting others onsite, one attendee from Australia was hospitalised for mild illness.

Australia’s deputy contingent leader Lloyd Nurthen said the Australians had written to organisers outlining concerns about sanitation, which they felt were being addressed.

There were also concerns about food packaging that did not contain proper labelling, which could lead to anaphylaxis for those with nut allergies, he said.

Exhausted Scouts take a rest.Credit: AP

Nurthen said the onset of cooler weather had been a welcome relief, while lollies and treats were helping to boost morale.

“Day one was a bit hard, it was a rushed day. But … they were out there doing activities in the onsite and offsite program,” he said. “The morale is pretty high among the Australian youth members.”

Participants have also reported inadequate shelter and a lack of cleaning in bathroom facilities at the camp, located on reclaimed rice field.

Organisers have been forced to cancel some activities due to health risks.

Scout leaders say the Australian children are mostly maintaining high spirits during the jamboree, which aims to build resilience.

Seeking to save the event – which is scheduled to run for another week – the South Korean government promised more water trucks, air-conditioned spaces and medics.

In an effort to calm the situation, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered officials to roll out tour programmes showcasing Korean culture and nature in Seoul and other cities, available for all scouts.

But the withdrawal of the United States, the United Kingdom and Singapore contingents is a fresh blow to organisers.

Still, some countries including the Philippines and Argentina said they would remain at the campsite despite the challenges.

A World Scout Jamboree participant is carried by stretcher at a local hospital.Credit: Reuters

“We are seeing around the site some improvements,” Marina Rustan, the president of Argentina’s Scout Association, told a press conference. “We had the word of the leadership of the government that things will be improved.”

Britain, the largest grouping at the jamboree, said on Friday its participants were moving to hotels in Seoul for the rest of their stay.

“While we have been on site at the jamboree, the UK volunteer team has worked extremely hard with the organisers, for our youth members and adult volunteers to have enough food and water to sustain them, shelter from the unusually hot weather, and toilets and washing facilities appropriate for an event of this scale,” the UK contingent said in a statement.

The US contingent, citing “ongoing extreme weather and resulting conditions at the jamboree site”, said it planned to move to a nearby American military base on Sunday.

Attendees cool off with water at the camp site.Credit: AP

Kristin Sayers from the US state of Virginia said her 17-year-old son Corey’s dream to take part in the jamboree – at a cost of almost 10,000 Australian dollars – had turned into a “nightmare”.

“He’s very aware of how much money that is and the sacrifices we made as a family to send him. We could’ve done so much with that money,” she said.

The World Organisation of the Scout Movement called on the South Koreans to see the jamboree out until its end on August 12.

Australian Scouts are holding up well despite the heat.

“The host decided to proceed with the delivery of the event with assurances that they will do their utmost to tackle the issues caused by the heatwave by adding significant additional resources,” it said in a statement.

“We continue to call on the host and the Korean government to follow through on their commitments to mobilise additional financial and human resources, and to make the health and safety of participants their highest priority.”

With Reuters

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