East Asia

Heat sickness, snakes and then a typhoon – how the World Scout Jamboree turned into a disaster

More than 40,000 young people from across the world had been fundraising for months, excitedly counting down the days until the World Scout Jamboree kicked off in South Korea on the first day of August.

The attendees had been promised a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, involving fun activities and new friends at the first global scout gathering since the pandemic. The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) added that the theme this year, ‘Draw your Dream’, was about the Scouts making “their Jamboree dreams come true in a safe environment”.

Instead, the event soon turned into a nightmare. Extreme heat resulted in hundreds of participants being taken ill, with snakes under beds and giant mosquitoes among the other challenges faced by the young scouting hopefuls. It all proved too much for the British contingent, who pulled their 4,000 participants from the campsite for the safety of the capital Seoul.

Days later a typhoon, set to bring powerful winds of up to 76mph and heavy rains after tearing its way across south east Asia, forced the evacuation of the remaining 36,000 young people and volunteers, effectively cancelling the event altogether.

Parents have slammed the jamboree, in Saemangeum, North Jeolla, as a “perfect storm of failures” and a “disaster zone” that was “clearly not safe”.

Have you been affected by this story? If so email tara.cobham@independent.co.uk

But how did it all go so badly wrong?

The first sign of trouble came on the opening day when South Korea raised its hot weather warning to the highest “serious” level for the first time in four years, by which point the scorching heat was estimated to have already killed at least 22 people across the country.

Jamboree participants were seen hosing themselves down with water to cool off, while officials said 400 fell sick from heat-related illnesses on that day alone, with hundreds more since, amid temperatures that hit 38C.

One father of a girl attending the global get-together described the worsening conditions at the campsite, located in an area of reclaimed land in southwestern Jeolla province.

Olaf Clayton recounted the ordeal of his daughter 16-year-old Gabriela, who had travelled to the even with British Scouting Overseas.

“There was no shade, all activities were cancelled, and there were huge mosquitoes,” he said. “Gabriela is quite a tough cookie, but she said there were ‘funny things’ coming out of the ground. There was a snake under her bed – thankfully the Bangladeshi scouts knew just how to deal with snakes.”

Parents and the public alike criticised the organisers for not anticipating the heat. A mother told The Independent the heatwave was the “final part in the perfect storm” of failures, with its effects exacerbated by an apparent lack of medical facilities.

The 46-year-old, from the East Midlands but who did not wish to be named, said her 16 year-old daughter was “severely” bitten by mosquitoes as the campsite was “infested” amid the heat. She said the Jamboree was ”clearly not safe”.

It wasn’t just parents thousands of miles away who raised concerns. UK Scouts chief executive Matt Hyde said it was “punishingly” hot in South Korea and that scout leaders were “concerned about the heat relief measures that have been put in place” as well as the medical services available.

Hundreds of children were taken sick in the first few days as they struggled with the heat

He said he felt “let down” by the organisers, adding: “It is critical that the lessons are learned. Things were promised, they weren’t delivered.”

When children were falling sick in their hundreds, the South Korean government initially insisted the event was safe enough to continue. Authorities channeled resources to keep the Jamboree going, adding medical staff, air-conditioned buses, military shade structures, and hundreds of workers to maintain bathrooms and showers, which some Scouts had complained were filthy or unkempt. Provincial governor Kim Kwan-young later apologised on Sunday for not being well prepared.

But it turned out that the heatwave was just the beginning. Tales of deteriorating sanitation and food shortages were starting to emerge, with a father, from Lancashire, who also asked to remain anonymous, saying his 17-year-old daughter told him of “disgusting” conditions.

Another father with a child in attendance, writing on Twitter, called the camp a “disaster zone”, adding: “Why plan to ship thousands of teenagers to a hot zone?”

But things did not go according to plan and ambulances were arriving within days

Attendees were forced to find ways to cool off at the site in Buan, North Jeolla province


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