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Heatwave sends South Korea scrambling to cool down jamboree scouts

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Participants for the 25th World Scout Jamboree fill water bottles at a water supply zone of a camping site in Buan, South Korea, on August 2, 2023.   — Yonhap
Participants for the 25th World Scout Jamboree fill water bottles at a water supply zone of a camping site in Buan, South Korea, on August 2, 2023. — Yonhap

South Korea’s presidential office called an emergency cabinet meeting and ordered the deployment of air-conditioned buses and freezer trucks Friday after hundreds of scouts at a massive jamboree suffered heat-related illnesses.

The situation even prompted scouts from the United Kingdom — reportedly the largest attendance group at around 4,000 — to leave the campsite early.

The Korean peninsula is currently in the midst of a heatwave, with average daily temperatures hovering around 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) and the government issuing its highest-possible heat warning as temperatures soar.

About 43,000 people from across the world are currently taking part in the World Scout Jamboree — known as the world’s largest youth camp — in Korea’s North Jeolla province.

Local authorities and organisers said around 600 participants had suffered heat-related illnesses, prompting Seoul officials to order the deployment of military doctors and nurses.

Local media outlets have described the situation as a “national disgrace”, given the time the country had to prepare for the event.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered an unlimited number of air-conditioned buses that scouts can use for brief refuge and refrigerator trucks to provide cold water, presidential spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye said Friday.

Yoon’s office added that the emergency meeting would make a decision “regarding the allocation of approximately 6 billion won ($4.59 million) in contingency funds”.

Later Friday, the World Organization of the Scout Movement said “scouts from the UK are set to leave the site early and travel to the South Korean capital Seoul instead.”

“We have been informed that the Contingent from the United Kingdom has decided to depart from the Jamboree campsite early, allowing Scouts to continue their Jamboree experience in Seoul until they are scheduled to travel home,” it said in a statement.

The United States Forces Korea told AFP that about 600 American jamboree participants had been offered the chance to stay at Camp Humphreys, a US Army garrison in Pyeongtaek, to avoid the heat.

Local broadcasters reported some scouts were “stuck” at the remote campsite despite the heat, citing anonymous staff members.

“It’s hard to even arrange bus rides on your own,” one staffer said.

Some people online compared the situation to the deadly survival game featured in South Korea’s mega-hit Netflix series “Squid Game”.

“Greetings to Scouts from all around the globe, as you arrive at the K-Survival Game,” one quipped on Twitter, which is being rebranded as X, above an image of pink Squid Game-style costumes.

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