Thousands at Scout camp move into hotels after S Korea heatwave

UK
British Scouts arrive at a hotel in central Seoul, South Korea, 05 August 2023EPA

UK Scouts are being moved to hotels in Seoul after an international event in South Korea was hit by extreme heat.

Hundreds have fallen ill at the outdoor World Scout Jamboree, which is attended by more than 40,000 young people from around the world, amid 35C (95F) heat.

The British group of 4,500, the largest in attendance, is moving from a camp site at Saemangeum to Seoul, the Scout Association confirmed.

The US and Singaporean teams are also pulling their members out of the event.

South Korea’s government said it was sending 60 more medics and 700 service workers to maintain the toilets and showers, with many countries staying at the site for the next week.

The jamboree, described as the world’s largest youth camp, gathers Scouts from around the world every four years, each time in a different country.

Most of those attending are aged between 14 and 18, and 155 countries are represented in South Korea.

This is the first jamboree since the pandemic and is due to run until 12 August.

Coaches of British teenagers have started arriving back in Seoul – about 120 miles (197km) from the campsite – and they will spend the next week in hotels.

The UK Scout Association said young people and adult volunteers had begun “settling into their accommodation” and the Jamboree experience would continue in the city before returning to the UK on 13 August as planned.

One of the UK team told BBC’s Seoul correspondent Jean Mackenzie the decision to pull out was not based just on the extreme heat but was also down to the facilities and food.

They described the campsite toilets as a “health risk” and said children’s dietary needs were not being met.

The UK team monitored conditions for a number of days, they said, giving the organisers the opportunity to improve them, but had lost confidence they could keep everyone safe.

Many of the parents the BBC has spoken to have said their children spent years preparing to attend the event, often raising thousands of pounds to do so.

Medics treating a person on a stretcher

Reuters

Thunderstorms are forecast for the region in which it is taking place, while temperatures will feel hotter than 40C due to high humidity, according to AccuWeather.

The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), the largest international Scouting organisation, said it had asked the Korean Scout Association, which is hosting the event, to consider ending early.

The movement said that the host “decided to go ahead with the event” and assured participants that it was doing “everything possible to address the issues caused by the heatwave”.

UK Scouts, the country’s largest scouting organisation, said its volunteers and others had worked to give members “enough food and water… shelter from the unusually hot weather… and toilets and washing facilities appropriate for an event of this scale.”

The UK and US teams have the money and resources to relocate thousands of people at short notice but there are plenty of countries at the event which do not.

Buses are parked for participants leaving the camping site of the 25th World Scout Jamboree in Buan, South Korea, August 5, 2023.

Reuters

The US is taking its participants to Camp Humphreys army base in Pyeongtaek, citing safety concerns.

Parents of children at the campsite told the BBC that no activities were taking place due to the heat.

Others have defended the event, saying their children were disappointed that they had to leave.

2px presentational grey line

2px presentational grey line

One mother from north-east England said what was meant to be a “great life experience” had turned into a “survival mission” for her 16-year-old daughter.

“She knew it would be hot but not as hot as it is. They cannot cool down, their tents are too hot,” said the mother, who did not wish to be named.

Her daughter had told her that the showers and toilets were “appalling and unsafe”, with “floating rubbish, plasters and hair” blocking drains.

Another parent said the situation was so bad they put their daughter on a plane back to the UK on Friday.

However Peter Naldrett told the BBC that his two children were “frustrated, upset and angry” about having to leave.

“My kids have said that the toilets are a bit grim but it’s manageable,” he said.

Shannon Swaffer, whose 15-year-old daughter is at the event, said the children were “all devastated that it’s ended early”.

“By all accounts the heat is intolerable and adults and kids alike can’t continue there,” she said, adding that her family were “lifelong Scout people” and that the leaders had been “absolutely phenomenal”.

Rebecca Coldwell said her 17-year-old daughter had received “outstanding” medical care for an infected wound, and that she was “heartbroken” about having to move to hotels.

Kristin Sayers from Virginia in the US, paid $6,500 (£5,100) for her 17-year-old son Corey to go to the jamboree but said his dream 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 told Reuters news agency.

Some Scouts from Spain, Belgium, and France, told the BBC they were happy to still be at the campsite and disappointed the British had left.

Blanca, a 16-year-old from Spain, said her sister was taken to hospital on the first day because of the heat, but she has recovered and so have the conditions.

“Now the situation is better. They give us cold water and fans and let us go inside places to get shade,” she said.

“I am sad the British didn’t stay. They’re really cool people and I enjoyed spending time with them,” she added.

The campsite in South Korea

Charlotte Swaffer

South Korea’s authorities have issued the country’s highest hot weather warning for the first time in four years.

Officials told Reuters that at least 600 people had been treated for heat-related illnesses in recent days. Their nationalities were not specified.

South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo announced that aid was being sent to the site amid criticism from some that authorities failed to plan for extreme heat.

“The government will use all its resources to ensure that the jamboree can end safely amid the heatwave,” he said.

Air-conditioned buses, water trucks and medical staff were being dispatched.

Additional reporting by Joe Inwood and Oliver Slow

Map showing the World Scout Jamboree camp

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