The Korea Herald


[Editorial] Jamboree woes

3 countries leave jamboree campsite early; government tries to improve conditions

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 7, 2023 - 05:30

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The 2023 World Scout Jamboree in Saemangeum, North Jeolla Province, is regaining its footing after a crisis in which it faced the threat of an early closure when some countries withdrew from the campsite.

Concerns about the event ending early mounted as contingents from the UK and the US decided to leave the Saemangeum site.

However, the other countries chose to remain, supporting the host country's efforts to improve conditions on the campsite. Operation and facilities seem to be getting better with the arrival of material support at the venue.

Problems such as sweltering heat, illnesses and poor facilities have persisted since the opening of the jamboree on Aug. 1 Some 1,000 participants complained of heat-related ailments and insect bites each day. There were dirty bathroom conditions and other issues. The British team was the first to decide to depart early, relocating to Seoul.

Their decision caused a huge stir because Britain was the jamboree‘s largest national contingent with about 4,500 participants. The jamboree drew 43,000 participants, mostly teenagers, from 158 countries. The World Organization of the Scout Movement asked the jamboree host to consider “alternative options to end the event earlier than scheduled.”

The US group of about 1,500 participants left for a US military base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, and 62 scouts of Singapore moved to Daejeon.

However other contingents chose to remain.

The central government took additional measures, including increasing air-conditioned buses where participants can cool themselves. It added tour programs. Local governments extended helping hands. Gyeonggi and South Jeolla provinces provided bottled water and ice. Seoul, Busan and other local governments are preparing tour courses for scouts.

Companies did not stand idle, either. Hyundai Heavy Industries sent manpower and equipment to repair and increase shower stalls and other facilities. About 20 other companies and institutions supplied bottled water, sports drinks and other goods. The Korean Buddhist Jogye Order opened about 170 temples across the country as campsites or lodgings for jamboree participants. The government and private sector have teamed up to run the rest of the event better.

Saemangeum is a vast tree-less area of reclaimed land and lacks protection from the summer heat. Early August is the hottest period of summer in South Korea. To begin with, it was problematic to host a jamboree on the area without shade during the period.

But North Jeolla Province defeated Goseong in the mountainous Gangwon Province in 2015 to become South Korea's candidate site. Six years ago in 2017, the province made a successful bid for the 25th World Scout Jamboree.

But preparations for the largest ever jamboree have been disappointing, though the province and the organizing committee spent six years and more than 100 billion won ($76 million) on preparations.

The Saemangeum campsite area is flat, low-lying and was developed as farmland, so concerns about the site being waterlogged were raised several times. North Jeolla Province said it did drainage works but it did not fix the problem properly. It rained last month, flooding parts of the campsite. It was not only difficult to pitch a tent, but also mosquitoes and insects bred in the standing water. Showers and bathrooms were insufficient and unclean. Foreign news media began to report the seriousness of the situation. It was a national disgrace.

If the event had been well prepared, the situation would not have come to this. There were issues even with basic sanitary facilities. Fortunately, though belatedly, organizers say conditions are improving thanks to the government's emergency responses and help from the private sector.

The top priority now is to do the best possible job of running the jamboree and ensure participants return home safe with better impressions of the host country.

After the event is over, the government must examine the problems in detail. An array of issues including campsite selection, failure to drain the site and budget execution must be investigated. Related officials must be held responsible for the lack of preparation.