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Monday, March 4, 2024

Jamboree evacuation continues apace, but questions linger

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Buses carrying scouts stream out of the World Scout Jamboree campsite in Buan County, North Jeolla, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
Buses carrying scouts stream out of the World Scout Jamboree campsite in Buan County, North Jeolla, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

When scouts from 158 countries descended upon Saemangeum, a barren field of reclaimed land in southern Korea, for the 25th World Scout Jamboree, they expected 11 days of paragliding, rock climbing, camping and befriending scouts from around the world.

But as they cleared out the event’s campsite on Tuesday ahead of Typhoon Khanun, that vision will likely be replaced with a very different Jamboree program.

According to Ahmad Alhendawi, secretary general of the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), 50 percent of youth participants had already been evacuated from the World Scout Jamboree campsite as of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.

“The evacuation continues at full speed and participants will be accommodated at multiple sites facilitated by the Korean government,” Alhendawi wrote on Twitter, adding he expects the transfer will be completed by the end of the day.

The WOSM secretary general said that scouts “will stay in Korea and will carry the spirit of the Jamboree with the aim of reuniting for a closing event that brings us all together before departure.”

The Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that the World Cup Stadium in Mapo District, western Seoul, had been selected as the stage of the K-Pop concert and the Jamboree’s closing ceremony on Friday evening.

Scouts from Portugal arrive at a dormitory at Jeonbuk National University in Jeonju, North Jeolla, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]
Scouts from Portugal arrive at a dormitory at Jeonbuk National University in Jeonju, North Jeolla, on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

Responsibility for hosting and arranging activities for almost 37,000 Jamboree participants has now largely shifted from the Jamboree’s organizing committee to local governments across Korea as scouts and volunteers began pulling out in over 1,000 buses from the event’s troubled Saemangeum campsite on Tuesday morning.

The scout contingent from Taiwan was aboard the first bus that left Saemangeum at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, with the remaining national delegations following on 1,014 buses.

According to Sweden’s TT News Agency, 1,500 scouts from Sweden are headed to Camp Humphreys, a major U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, along with Danish and Norwegian scouts.

Norwegian scout contingent leader Geir Olav Kaase said in a statement that the 700-strong Norwegian contingent had already left Saemangeum on Monday evening to “avoid any chaos that may arise in the event of a joint evacuation,” adding that the group is doing “all we can to ensure that the scouts are safe and well, and that the transfer goes as smoothly as possible.”

Camp Humphreys, which is the largest overseas U.S. military base, is already hosting the 1,500-strong U.S. scout delegation, which was the second national contingent after the 4,500-member British delegation to announce their departure from the Jamboree campsite over concerns regarding conditions on the ground.

A British scout pays his respects at the Gloucester Hill Battle Monument in Paju, northern Gyeonggi. [YONHAP]
A British scout pays his respects at the Gloucester Hill Battle Monument in Paju, northern Gyeonggi. [YONHAP]

On Tuesday, the Korean Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs arranged a program for British scouts on Tuesday to visit sites connected to the 1950-53 Korean War in which British troops fought, including the Gloucester Hill Battle Monument in Paju, northern Gyeonggi, the War Memorial of Korea in Yongsan District, Seoul, and Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak District, southern Seoul.

In an interview with the BBC released on Monday, UK Scouts chief executive Matt Hyde said he felt “let down” by the Jamboree’s organizers and that British scout activities had been set back by “three to five years” due to the cost of the contingent’s relocation this past weekend, which he said will cost over 1 million pounds ($1.2 million) from its reserves.

In all, local governments have found 128 accommodation sites across eight provinces and cities to host visiting scouts, according to Interior Minister Lee Sang-min on Tuesday morning.

The majority of Jamboree participants are headed to Seoul and surrounding Gyeonggi, where local authorities secured a total of 83 accommodation facilities at the request of the Jamboree’s organizing committee, with the rest to be rehoused in a mixture of public and corporate accommodation in Incheon, North Chungcheong, Daejeon, Sejong and North Jeolla.

“Local authorities are checking the cleanliness of accommodation sites and toilets and are preparing medical measures to ensure that participants will have a safe and comfortable stay,” Lee said.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced on Tuesday evening that it had prepared an expanded program of tourism and cultural activities to welcome the scouts, including kayaking, paddle boarding and yachting on the Han River, hiking on Mount Inwang and Mount Bugak and rock climbing at outdoor parks in Daechi, Gangbyeon and Ttukseom starting Wednesday.

The city will operate free circular tourist bus routes through downtown Jung and Jongno districts, with buses scheduled to leave City Hall every 20 minutes.

The municipal government said earlier Tuesday that it had also completed inspections of facilities designated to house visiting scouts.

Toilets and shower facilities at the Jamboree’s campsite came in for particular criticism this past week, with photos shared with local and international media showing blocked drains and overflowing toilets.

The World Scout Jamboree campsite in Saemangeum on Tuesday afternoon, after more than half of participants had packed up and left. [YONHAP]
The World Scout Jamboree campsite in Saemangeum on Tuesday afternoon, after more than half of participants had packed up and left. [YONHAP]

The withdrawal of the scout delegations marks the death knell of the Jamboree campsite in Saemangeum, a reclaimed flatland in Buan County, North Jeolla, where tents and marquees proved wholly inadequate for 43,000 Jamboree participants at the height of the country’s ongoing heat wave.

The suitability of Saemangeum as the Jamboree’s campsite was repeatedly questioned before the festival, with media scrutiny focusing on its lack of natural shade and high exposure to the elements.

But the North Jeolla provincial government continued to back Saemangeum as their preferred venue for the Jamboree in order to attract investment for the land reclamation project.

The abandonment of the campsite mirrors that of the reclaimed field where it stands, which remains undeveloped despite the large-scale environmental destruction of estuarine tidal flatland that once served as a habitat for migratory birds.

The Jamboree’s organizers said the campsite will no longer be used for events after the scouts’ departure, and workers were already busy dismantling facilities on Monday afternoon, after the World Organization of the Scout Movement announced the evacuation of scout contingents from Saemangeum ahead of torrential rain and winds expected to accompany the approaching typhoon.

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]