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Why South Korea’s scout jamboree was destined to fail – DW – 08/08/2023

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Tens of thousands of scouts from around the world were on Tuesday evacuating the site of the international scout jamboree in South Korea, the final indignity for an event that has been blighted by poor planning and unfortunate weather conditions. 

Those problems have been exacerbated by an accusation of sexual impropriety that was allegedly ignored. And now, with blame being apportioned, there have been further suggestions that a good proportion of the funds allocated to the event in advance were instead spent on numerous lavish foreign trips for the organizers.  

Officially, organizers said the decision was taken to abandon the 12-day gathering because Typhoon Khanun is expected to make landfall in the region in the coming days, but several thousand scouts had already abandoned the problem-plagued site — including the delegations from Britain, the US and Singapore — due to the appalling conditions. 

The operation to evacuate the remaining scouts from the sprawling coastal campsite on a controversial swath of reclaimed land at Saemangeum, in the southwest of the Korean Peninsula, began on Tuesday morning. 

British scout members leave the World Scout Jamboree campsite in Buan, South Korea
The UK Scout Association had evacuated their scouts to Seoul on Sunday — citing poor sanitation and food quality, among other concernsImage: Choe Young-soo/Yonhap/AP

Jamboree beset with problems

In a statement issued on Monday, the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) said the Korean government had confirmed that the jamboree was being abandoned.

“Despite the challenges, participants on the campsite and those who have now moved to other locations in Korea have demonstrated true scouting resilience, and we will continue working with the host to support them throughout their stay,” according to the WOSM statement

Questions had been raised, even before the first scouts arrived, with the region experiencing higher-than-normal rainfall in recent weeks.

Local residents have told Korean media that drainage at the site was inadequate, resulting in pools of stagnant water dotting the site — the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The site — a reclaimed tidal flat — has been described as a treeless mud beach with virtually no natural shade or shelter.

This year’s jamboree has coincided with high temperatures across the nation, with thermometers nudging 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) at times and the conditions made worse by high humidity.

In the first four days of the event, more than 2,500 scouts had been treated for various ailments, many associated with the record-breaking heat. There were also reports of at least 70 coronavirus cases at the site. 

Waste left at the campsite at Saemangeum park in Buan-gun, Jeollabuk-do, South Korea
The provincial government had hoped the event would draw investment to a swath of reclaimed landImage: Kwak Kyung-keun/Matrix Images/picture alliance

German contingent moves to Seoul

Some 1,700 German scouts traveled to South Korea for the jamboree, along with 500 support staff and medical personnel, and all participants have now been transferred to hotels and other accommodation in Seoul, David Bieger, first secretary for political affairs at the German embassy in Seoul, told DW.

The South Korean government finally grasped the scale of the unfolding problem on Friday, with President Yoon Suk-yeol promising to provide “national support” to the participants.

The support was too late, however, with the British opting to evacuate their scouts to Seoul on Sunday — citing poor sanitation and food quality, among other concerns — followed by the US contingent, who moved to a US military base in South Korea. The German scouts will remain in Seoul and surrounding districts until their scheduled departure at the weekend. 

Widespread criticisms

The Korea JoongAng Daily described the jamboree as a “fiasco” in its editorial on Monday and demanded punishment for those held to have been responsible.

The Korea Times echoed those complaints, describing the preparations as “unbelievably poor.”

A look at the heat wave in Asia

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Kim Hyun-sook, the gender equality and families minister, apologized on Monday for describing an incident in which an adult male scout entered a women’s wash block where a Korean female was showering.

“When I said the incident was a ‘minor’ one, I was not referring to the intrusion itself,” the Korea JoongAng Daily quoted Kim as saying. “I said so because I heard from the police that there was a trespassing case.”

That apology was inadequate for Kim Tae-yeon, head of the South Korean North Jeolla Province Council, who accused the organizers of failing to act to protect female scouts.

The fallout from the event shows no signs of abating, with Yonhap News reporting on Monday that the budget for the event had been more than 100 billion won ($76 million), but that local government officials and bureaucrats from the Gender Equality and Family Ministry went on overseas trips over the last year, describing the excursions as research. 

In 2018, five officials enjoyed an eight-day trip to the Swiss towns of Lucerne and Interlaken and the Italian cities of Milan and Venice. None of the four cities has any experience of hosting a scout jamboree.

Other officials took part in ship cruises during trips to Australia and the US, despite the South Korea jamboree not having a cruise ship component.

Edited by: Keith Walker

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