Amid continued woes, Korea struggles to salvage World Scout Jamboree

Besides the heat waves, hostile environment and pests at the Jamboree site, Covid-19 infections have become another major concern.

Lee Jung-yoon and Lee Jung-joo

Lee Jung-yoon and Lee Jung-joo

The Korea Herald


Participants of the World Scout Jamboree in Saemangeum reclaimed tidal flat area of Buan, North Jeolla Province gather under a tent for shade on Aug 4, 2023. PHOTO: YONHAP/THE KOREA HERALD

August 7, 2023

SEOUL – Amid the consecutive withdrawals of several countries’ delegations, the Jamboree Organizing Committee and the Korean government said they were urgently seeking to salvage the ongoing World Scout Jamboree, which has been plagued by weather-related safety and health issues, hygiene woes and the spread of COVID-19.

A day after deciding to continue the 12-day event, the government said it mobilized all necessary forces to provide a better environment for participants still facing the scorching heat, poor drainage, insect problems, a shortage of medical staff and hygiene and food problems, bringing the event under fire for not lacking proper preparations.

With the national government coordinating with tourism agencies and local governments to offer alternative programs for scouts that have left the site, Korean businesses, including Samsung, have also stepped up efforts to provide medical personnel, portable toilets and electric carts. For the safety of participants, the government and the organizing committee said they decided to postpone a K-pop event originally scheduled for Aug. 6 to Aug. 11, when the closing ceremony is set to be held.

The government has decided to move the concert to Jeonju World Cup Stadium, nearly 60 kilometers from the current Saemangeum site — a reclaimed tidal flat area — for the safety of the participants, said Gender Equality and Family Minister Kim Hyun-sook.

Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min speaks at a press conference on Sunday. (Yonhap)

Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min said that several anti-heat measures are being taken, including 132 more air-conditioned buses to enable participants suffering from the scorching heat to get temporary relief, bringing the total number of such buses to 262. The number of shuttle buses within the Jamboree campsite has also been doubled, with a total of 24 buses operating every 10 minutes, upgraded from the original 30-minute intervals. The military has installed 69 additional shade screens throughout the campsite.

In consultation with the World Organization of the Scout Movement, eight pools of water were installed throughout the campsite. Also, a total of 1,400 personnel will manage showers and toilets, with the aim of providing a clean environment for the teens.

“The government, local governments, the military and the private sector are doing their best to improve the Jamboree environment,” said Interior Minister Lee. “Please support us so that Jamboree can be successfully completed.”

The decisions were made as some 1,500 US scouts left the campsite to Camp Humphreys, the US army base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, on Sunday morning.

The 4,400 British Scouts, the largest contingent, also left the campsite for hotels in Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, where they are to stay until returning home on Aug. 13 as planned.

“As we are the largest contingent, our hope is that this helps alleviate the pressure on the site overall,” said the Scout Association that represents the UK in an official statement.

Singapore Scouts also left the Jamboree campsite on Saturday and were transferred to the Daejeon Education Center in Daejeon.

British Scouts leave the jamboree site in the Saemangeum reclaimed tidal flat area of Buan, North Jeolla Province, Sunday. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, scouts from Germany and Sweden have confirmed that they will remain at the Jamboree until its conclusion.

“Although the first few days didn’t go as planned, many things are being improved at a fast pace,” the German organization said in an official statement on its website.

Meanwhile, approximately 80 South Korean scouts decided to leave the Jamboree campsite, blaming organizers for mishandling an alleged sexual crime involving a male Thai scout leader who snuck into the women’s shower room on Wednesday.

“At around 5 a.m., the (male Thai) leader followed our female adult leader to the women’s shower room. After being caught at the scene he lied, claiming that he was there to take a shower,” said Kim Tae-yeon, leader of the North Jeolla Province Scout Association, adding that about 100 people had witnessed the scene.

Kim lashed out at the Jamboree Committee for not taking proper measures such as separating the accused perpetrator from the scouts and protecting the victims.

The Thai scout leader was reportedly given “a simple warning” by the Jamboree Organizing Committee, and Kim said his association had reported the case to the local police.

However, police and the organizing committee said that the sex crime allegation had yet to be confirmed and was still under investigation.

Kim Hyo-jin, the head of the Jeonbuk Police Agency’s Women and Youth Investigation Unit said police had yet to confirm whether the Thai leader had a sexual intention when entering the shower room. “We are investigating whether other allegations such as forcible entry can be applied (to the case).”

Choi Chang-haeng, secretary-general of the Jamboree Organizing Committee, said that the Safe From Harm Team, which was dispatched from the WOSM, has conducted an investigation and concluded that the incident was caused by “cultural differences.” Choi and the Jamboree Committee didn’t elaborate on what the “cultural differences” were.

Also speaking at the briefing, Jacob Murray, chief of the Jamboree under the WOSM, said it was too early to conclude that the incident was a case of sexual harassment. “We take all cases of harm and abuses seriously. However, we have reviewed the facts as presented by the victims through the Safe From Harm Team, and our investigation determined that no sexual harassment has occurred,” he said.

The briefing was interrupted by Kim from the North Jeolla Province Scout Association, who protested that the organizer’s explanation was insufficient.

Besides the heat wave, hostile environment and pests at the Jamboree site, COVID-19 infections have become another major concern. As of 1 p.m. on Sunday, the number of infected people reached 92, with 82 being participants from abroad and 10 being Korean nationals.

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