Thousands of UK and US scouts attending the World Scout Jamboree in South Korea are being removed from the official campsite in the south-western county of Buan amid a suffocating heatwave.
The event, which started this week, has drawn 43,000 young scouts from 158 countries, with the UK contingent the largest at 4,500.
Hundreds of people have needed treatment for heat-related ailments in recent days.
UK Scouts said in a statement on Saturday that young people and adult volunteers had begun arriving in Seoul and were settling into their accommodation.
It said: “As we are the largest contingent, our hope is that this helps alleviate the pressure on the site overall.
“We know that may be a disappointment for some and we will continue the jamboree experience in Seoul, working with Korean authorities on a programme of activities so our young people still get the most from their time in Korea.”
It said the young people would travel home from 13 August as originally planned.
It added: “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 US contingent will take part in the jamboree programme on Saturday before moving to the US army garrison Camp Humphreys near the jamboree site on the following day.
An email sent out to parents by the US contingent media team read: “The US contingent to the World Scout Jamboree has made the difficult decision that we will be departing the 25th World Scout Jamboree site early because of ongoing extreme weather and resulting conditions at the jamboree site.”
Scouts from Singapore have also withdrawn from the event.
The world scouting body had asked the South Korean government to end the event early, but it was decided it would continue.
The World Organisation of the Scout Movement said: “We have been informed that the UK contingent has decided to leave the jamboree camp early, allowing the scouts to continue their jamboree experience in Seoul until they are scheduled to travel home.
“The host [the Korean Scout Association] decided to go ahead with the event, assuring that they will do everything possible to address the issues caused by the heatwave by adding additional resources.
“We continue to call on the host and the Korean government to honour their commitments to mobilise additional financial and human resources, and to make the health and safety of the participants their top priority.”
The jamborees organising committee responded to the UK and US withdrawal by saying: “We recognise their freedom to make decisions as scouts and regret that they could not continue their scouting activities [on site] to the end due to reasons such as a heatwave.”
The US and UK’s withdrawal from the international event will be a big blow and a major source of embarrassment to the South Korean authorities, which have been working all out to limit the negative coverage generated in recent days.
South Korea has been eager in recent decades to establish prestige among advanced countries by hosting large-scale global events. Its government is keen to become the seventh country to hold the trinity of global events, comprising the World Expo, the World Cup and Olympics. World Expo 2030, which is only months away from selecting a host country, is a national priority.
South Korea has pumped millions into improving conditions at the gathering, with the president, Yoon Suk Yeol, ordering “unlimited” air-conditioned buses and cold-water trucks and hundreds more sanitary and medical staff to be brought in.
South Korean authorities have issued the highest-level heat warning in four years, as temperatures in some parts of the country exceeded 38C (100F) this week. Temperatures of up to 34C are forecast at the site over the weekend.
On Friday, Kim Hyun-sook, the gender equality and family minister in charge of the event, said 6.9bn won (£4.1m) had been allotted to secure equipment including additional shaded areas with the cooperation of the military, and supplies including cooling masks, hats, sun cream, and ice packs.
“We will make every effort to ensure stable operations with a responsible attitude so that this event can end safely,” she said.
Organisers have been criticised after numerous accounts of hospital bed shortages; waterlogged conditions caused by earlier heavy rains; rotten food; swarms of mosquitoes and flies, and poor sanitation.
At a press briefing on Thursday, Choi Chang-haeng, the secretary general of the event’s organising committee, suggested that overexcitement at the sight of K-pop acts on stage had caused the heat stress.
However, some parents expressed concerns about the conditions, and the UK’s Foreign Office is closely monitoring the situation
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The embassy remains in close contact with Scouts UK and will continue to provide support where required.”
Source : The Guardian