Scouts UK provide an update from South Korea
The decision to evacuate thousands of British scouts from a jamboree on the coast of South Korea was taken as a result of concerns over safety and hygiene, Matt Hyde, Scouts UK Chief Executive, has said.
With temperatures soaring and Tropical Storm Khanun approaching, buses began moving tens of thousands of other scouts to inland venues this morning ahead of the arrival of Khanun, effectively, bringing to an end the World Scout Jamboree which had already struggled with heat, hygiene and land use controversies.
The South Korean government scrambled to keep the Jamboree going as thousands of British and American Scouts quit over the weekend after an extreme heat wave hospitalised some attendees.
It was not until yesterday afternoon that officials announced the decision to abandon the coastal campsite in the southwestern town of Buan, after forecasters raised alarms that Tropical Storm Khanun was heading toward the Korean Peninsula.
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South Korean officials say the jamboree will continue in the form of cultural events and activities, including a K-Pop concert in Seoul on Friday.
Roughly 4,500 British scouts and volunteers are in Seoul – the largest contingent of any nation. All were pulled out on Friday.
In a video uploaded to the UK Scouts website, Mr Hyde explained: “The reason why we’ve taken that decision is because we were concerned about young people and adult volunteer safety and there’s four reasons for that.
“The first is that we were particularly concerned about sanitation and the cleanliness of toilets that were causing severe concerns for us from a safety point of view.”
He added: “In addition to that we were worried about food and those with dietary requirements in particular and the amount of food that was available.
“We were concerned about the heat, it is punishingly hot here in Korea, it is an unprecedented heatwave and we were concerned about the heat relief measures that were being put in place.
“And finally we were concerned about medical services and those four areas gave us concerns about whether young people and adult volunteers were safe.
“We are disappointed in the organisers and organisation and we do feel let down.”
Mr Hyde nevertheless insisted the “jamboree journey continues” – and confirmed the British attendees would return home on Monday, as planned.
Critics have argued the decision to host the Jamboree at a site known as Saemangeum was part of an effort to justify further investment in a controversial swath of reclaimed land.
More than 1,000 vehicles are being used to evacuate 37,000 Scouts from 156 countries, mostly teenagers. Most will be accommodated in Seoul and the surrounding area, where officials have secured university dormitories, government and corporate training centres, and hotels.
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Tropical Storm Khanun has meandered around Japan’s southwestern islands for more than a week, dumping heavy rain, knocking out power and damaging homes.
Early Tuesday morning, the storm was centred 217 miles (350 kilometres) south of Kagoshima, a city on the southwestern tip of Japan’s main southern island of Kyushu. Khanun produced winds of 67 mph (108 kph) with gusts to 89 mph (144 kph) and was slowly moving north, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported.
South Korea’s weather agency, which measured the storm at typhoon strength of 78 mph (126 kph), expected it to gain strength slightly before making landfall Thursday morning. It’s expected to bring strong winds and heavy rains to South Korea from Wednesday to Friday.
South Korea’s safety ministry instructed local officials to prepare to shut down coastal areas, hiking trails, river parks, underpass tunnels and other places vulnerable to flooding.
The jamboree began last Wednesday at the campsite in Saemangeum, a huge area reclaimed from sea by a 19-year project which was completed in 2010. It has remained largely barren site as local officials continue to pursue plans for highways, ports and an international airport.
Once seen as major development project that would revamp a region that lacks modern industries, Saemanguem is now increasingly viewed as an ecological disaster that wiped out coastal wetlands and hurt fisheries production.
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Concerns had been raised beforehand about having such large numbers of young people in a vast, treeless area lacking protection from heat. Hundreds of participants were treated for heat-related ailments after the Jamboree began, as South Korea grappled with one of its hottest summers in years.
Critics have argued the push to host the Jamboree at Saemangeum was part of efforts to justify further investment in the site, where local officials continue to pursue plans for new highways, ports and an international airport. The airport was initially planned to be built for the Jamboree, but construction hasn’t started yet.
Before Tuesday’s pullout, government officials channeled national resources to keep the event going, adding medical staff, air-conditioned buses, military shade structures, and hundreds of workers to maintain bathrooms and showers, which some Scouts complained were filthy or unkempt.
Organisers said the campsite will not be used for any other events after the Scouts leave.
More than 270 police cars and four helicopters were deployed to escort the buses that began departing the site on 9am, said Lee Sang-min, South Korea’s Minister of the Interior and Safety. The evacuation is expected to take six hours or more.
More than 13,500 scouts will be accommodated at 64 different venues in Gyeonggi province, South Korea’s largest province surrounding Seoul. About 3,100 scouts will stay in Seoul and another 3,200 will be sent to nearby Incheon. Nearly 9,000 scouts will be sent to 25 different venues in the North and South Chungcheong provinces in the country’s central region, Lee said.
He added: “Local governments are checking the sanitation of the accommodation venues and restrooms and are preparing medical measures to ensure that the participants would be safe and comfortable after they arrive.
“Police will patrol the accommodations, while officials from the Korea Food and Drug Administration will carefully check the quality, quantity and safety of meals.”
The announcement about the evacuations came after the World Organization of the Scout Movement said it called on South Korea to quickly move the Scouts from the storm’s path and provide necessary resources for participants until they return to their home countries.
Ahmad Alhendawi, secretary general of the World Organisation of the Scout Movement, credited South Korea’s government of “mobilising all available resources” into the relocation effort.
He added: “This is the first time in more than 100 years of World Scout Jamborees that we have had to face such compounded challenges.
“It’s disappointing that these adverse weather conditions have forced us to shift our plans.”
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