World Scout Jamboree hit by heat, hygiene problems

While refusing to disclose the exact number, organisers said there were over 108 scouts who suffered from heat-related illnesses at the opening ceremony.

Lee Jung-Youn

Lee Jung-Youn

The Korea Herald


Scout members who participated in the 2023 World Scout Jamboree use water pump to endure the scorching weather, Tuesday. PHOTO: WSBureau Inc./THE KOREA HERALD

August 4, 2023

SEOUL – The accumulated number of participants suffering from heat-related illnesses has reached over 1,000 since the World Scout Jamboree — dubbed the “cultural Olympics for youth” — kicked off on the reclaimed land of Saemangeum near Buan County, North Jeolla Province on Tuesday amid scorching weather, fire authorities said Thursday.

While refusing to disclose the exact number, organizer of the Saemangeum Jamboree said there were over 108 scouts who suffered from heat-related illnesses at Wednesday‘s opening ceremony.

The total number of patients who had been treated during the opening ceremony, including patients with headaches, stomachache and muscle damage is 139, Choi Chang-haeng, secretary-general of the Jamboree Committee, said at a press briefing at the Jamboree Press Center earlier in the day on Thursday.

Amid growing concerns over the safety of the participants, the emergency control tower under the Interior Ministry raised the heat wave response level from the first stage to second stage as of 5 p.m. Thursday, as more than 108 regions are likely to see the maximum sensory temperature of over 35 degrees Celsius for over the next three days. It is the first time that the second stage response level had been issued due to the heat wave. The ministry also announced that it will immediately grant 3 billion won ($2.3 million) as a disaster safety budget for the Jamboree event to North Jeolla Province.

The temperature soared to 34 degrees Celsius on Wednesday at the Jamboree site, exposing participants to the scorching heat in the middle of mud land that has no natural shade to protect them from direct sunlight and heat.

The Jamboree Committee plans to secure an additional 30 doctors and 60 nurses to promptly respond to heat-related illnesses and other emergencies.

On concerns growing over participants’ health during the event, Choi stressed that the Jamboree Committee is in control of the situation, saying that it could have happened in a Jamboree in any country. Choi suggested that the K-pop event during the opening ceremony, which drained the teenage participants’ energy, may have contributed to a surge in patients. At around 8 p.m. on Wednesday, when the opening ceremony began, the temperature was still above 28 C even after sunset.

To keep scouts safe from weather hazards, the Jamboree Committee will suspend some outdoor programs and focus on water activities, indoor activities and Korean cultural experience programs outside the Jamboree site to prevent the teens from being excessively exposed to the heat. Additional air conditioning and cooling devices will also be provided, Choi added.

Meanwhile, it was reported that the Jamboree Committee came under criticism as it was found to have neglected police and fire authorities’ requests to halt the opening ceremony as the number of heat-related patients increased. The organizing committee did not immediately stop the event, canceling only the fireworks, and continued the event for an additional 20 minutes, according to local reports.

The organizing committee explained that it was to avoid confusion and ensure the safety of the participants. “If we suddenly stopped the ceremony, the teens could have become more frightened and the panic might lead to additional safety problems,” said Choi.

In addition to the scouts’ heat-induced health problems, hygiene issues including spoiled food and unmanaged facilities have also been raised. According to reports, eggs with mold were given to some participants.

“The eggs with mold were immediately discarded, and no participants ate them. We will thoroughly investigate the distribution process,” an organizing committee official said.

The local media reports have also pointed out the insufficient number of toilets, showers and changing rooms, as well as the poor condition of the facilities.

Family members of scouts participating in the Jamboree have been raising concerns on social media. “Basic needs are not enabled with no tents, food or water provided. This is scary and disappointing,” one parent who sent her two daughters to the Jamboree commented.

Son‘s troop spent their 1st night of Jamboree in a school gym due to delayed arrival. Spending their 2nd night on the ground because they don’t have a campsite, tents nor cots or gear. They seem to be in good spirits for now, but I‘m heartbroken for his dream to be turning into a nightmare,” another parent who had sent her son to the Jamboree commented on the World Scout Jamboree Facebook page.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo ordered Gender Equality Minister Kim Hyun-sook to “stay at the Jamboree site until the end of the event and ensure the safety of 43,000 participants from 159 countries.”

Han also ordered the Defense Ministry to promptly dispatch military doctors and personnel to support facility repair and expansions. To cool down, more ice will be provided to participants, Han added.

Han stressed that all information should be transparently informed to the public and the media through regular briefings every day.

Gender Equality Vice Minister Lee Ki-soon held a press conference Thursday afternoon and confirmed that one country had sent official letter to the Korean government, raising concerns about the weather and facility management. “We cannot disclose information about the country (which sent the letter),” said Lee.

Regarding rumors that some members of the participating countries have returned to their home country, Lee stressed that “no country has withdrawn from the event.”

On reports that medications for heat-related illnesses have run out, Lee said, “We are trying to secure related medications and drugs as quickly as possible.” The Jamboree Committee has reportedly requested help from nearby hospitals and the North Jeolla Provincial Office.

Lee added that 240 additional cleaning personnel will be deployed to manage showers and toilets, and the number of cleaning times will be expanded from three times a day to once an hour.

“The monsoon season was longer and the heat wave was more severe than expected. We are sorry for the difficulties and insufficient management,” Lee said.

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