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Le Monde
Le Monde
5 Aug 2023


World Scout Gathering in Buan, South Korea, on August 4, 2023.

Overwhelmed by heat and serious health problems, South Korea's World Scout Jamboree is threatening to turn into political chaos and a diplomatic setback. Described as an "international disgrace" by the daily paper Segye Times, the situation at this gathering of 43,000 young people was front-page news in the South Korean press on Saturday, August 5.

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It is said to be so serious that the event, scheduled to run until August 12, may have to conclude earlier. The 4,500 British participants have already decided to leave. They will return to Seoul, where they will stay until August 13, the scheduled end of their stay. "We know that may be a disappointment for some and we will continue the Jamboree experience in Seoul, working with Korean authorities on a program of activities so our young people still get the most from their time in Korea," explained Scouts UK, the UK's leading scout organization.

The American Scouts also left the event to move to Camp Humphreys, an American military camp located in Pyeongtaek, 65 kilometers south of Seoul, where they are expected to remain there until August 11.

These decisions were reportedly taken with the support of the countries' embassies, which were concerned about the situation at the jamboree, even though the South Korean Foreign Affairs Ministry had set up a working group to address their concerns.

The delegations were reportedly unconvinced by the intervention of South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl, who interrupted his week-long vacation on Friday to demand the supply of an unlimited number of air-conditioned buses and refrigerated trucks to the organizers. "The government must immediately solve all the problems at the site," said the head of state, as his prime minister, Han Duck-soo, organized an emergency cabinet meeting to approve the use of reserve funds.

The panic at the highest level of government reflects the anger aroused by the deplorable conditions of this jamboree, which opened on August 1 in a camp set up on land reclaimed from the Yellow Sea in Saemangeum (Buan County), in the western province of North Jeolla. It brought together 43,000 young people aged 13 to 18 from 153 countries. World Jamborees are held every four years to promote cultural exchange. South Korea hosted one in 1991. Back then, it was held in Goseong, in the mountainous northeast province of Gangwon.

This time, the scouts were faced with a particularly severe heat wave, with temperatures approaching 40°C. The situation is exacerbated by high humidity: The area, which is fully exposed to the sun, turns into a veritable sauna.

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