South Korea is scrambling to support an outdoor youth gathering taking place at a reclaimed tidal flat amid scorching August temperatures, as hundreds were treated for heat-related symptoms in the event’s first couple of days.
The 25th World Scout Jamboree opened on Tuesday, hosting about 43,000 people from 158 countries, mostly Scouts ages 14 to 18, according to organizers. The quadrennial event is taking place at the Saemangeum Delta at Buan County along Korea’s southwest coast, where observers note conditions can be punishing, with little to no natural shade.
Young overseas participants who spoke to VOA in Seoul days earlier expressed excitement at being able to mingle with peers from around the globe, as well as the plethora of camping and Korean cultural programs awaiting them. Just a couple years earlier it wasn’t clear whether the event would take place because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said.
Now it’s a crushing heat wave and underwhelming preparation that are presenting a different set of challenges.
South Korea is under a hot weather warning this week that reached the highest “serious” level for the first time in four years. The mercury crept close to 37.7 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) at the campsite, as in many parts of the country, with sweltering conditions forecast to continue through the Jamboree’s scheduled wrap on August 12.
Over the latter half of July, the area was inundated with rain, complicating construction at the reclaimed tidal flat. Touring the site, the Gender Equality and Family Ministry, involved with the event’s hosting, had expressed concerns over whether preparations would be ready in time.
Three days into the two-week-long event, many are turning to social media to post their grievances, including the lack of basic facilities such as well-maintained bathrooms and a lack of sufficient food and water.
So far, there have been 207 cases of heat-related illnesses observed over the Jamboree’s first two days, the Vice Family Minister Lee Ki Soon told an afternoon briefing on Thursday. Hundreds of others were treated for other issues such as bug bites, she said.
Local news outlets reported the campsite “Jamboree clinics,” where emergency medical services are offered, were inadequately supplied and short on beds. People with more serious conditions were being sent to area hospitals.
Dozens of military doctors, nurses and emergency personnel will be dispatched to Buan County to assist, said Prime Minister Han Duck-soo’s office on Thursday. Blood bank vehicles will also be sent to provide additional resting areas, and additional air conditioners are to be provided for the five on-site medical clinics.
Separately, the government said it would send an additional 2.3 million U.S. dollars to North Jeolla Province to bolster hot weather facilities at the Jamboree.
Given the scale of the global event, embassy staffers were at the campsite as the opening ceremonies kicked off on Wednesday evening.
“Excited to be at the 25th World Scout Jamboree in Korea,” Danish ambassador to Korea Svend Olling posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Meeting up with the 400+ Danish #Scouts! It’s incredible to see their enthusiasm and dedication to making a positive impact on the world.”
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and British adventurer Bear Grylls gave opening speeches to a crowd of teenage Scouts gathered for the Jamboree, running under the theme, “Draw Your Dream.”
“True adventure is a state of mind,” Grylls posted on Instagram, “and remember: stay hydrated out there. It’s hot.”
Firefighters responded to calls for help during the kick-off program. Some 80 attendees complained of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and nausea, according to local media. Most returned after sitting in a cool vehicle.
The U.S. embassy in Seoul told VOA it was in communication with the event’s organizers over several months given the “substantial U.S. participation in the Jamboree,” adding it coordinated with “both Boy Scouts of America leadership and U.S. Forces Korea to ensure the safety of the U.S. Scout delegation,” in light of concerns over venue and adequacy of services.
The U.S. group arrived one day later on request from the Jamboree planning committee, Seoul-based Yonhap News reported. They reportedly spent the night at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, a U.S. Army Garrison.
The British delegation — the largest with 3,300 young people — have on-site consular services “in line with standard practice for such events,” said the U.K.’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. They are closely monitoring the situation to ensure the safety of British nationals, its spokesperson said.
This is the second time South Korea is hosting the World Scout Jamboree after its initial hosting in 1991.