South Korean authorities began a massive operation on Tuesday to relocate nearly 40,000 teenage scouts from around the world, after they were forced to change venues for a 12-day gathering that had become plagued with problems.
The World Scout Jamboree, held on a giant makeshift campsite in Saemangeum on the country’s west coast, was supposed to feature outdoor activities, cultural performances, sustainability workshops and other offerings for the participants, mostly middle and high schoolers.
But complaints about conditions in the camp, as well as an approaching typhoon and extreme heat – the latter of which sickened hundreds of teens – put a dampener on festivities and scouts are now leaving the main venue almost a week ahead of schedule.
More than 1,000 buses carrying 37,000 scouts started leaving the jamboree site on Tuesday, according to Lee Sang-min, the country’s interior and safety minister.
The buses are being escorted by 273 police patrol vehicles and four police helicopters, and the participants will be placed in 128 accommodation locations across the country.
“For the remaining five days, the government continues to operate the jamboree program, and we will support the participants to build the Jamboree experience,” the minister added.
The World Organization of the Scout Movement had announced this “emergency evacuation plan” on Monday, citing the incoming Typhoon Khanun. The typhoon is forecast to hit South Korea on Thursday, with up to 6 inches (150 millimeters) of rainfall expected, according to CNN meteorologists.
The typhoon is only the latest in a series of issues that have dogged the event since its launch on August 1. Within the first week, hundreds of teenagers fell ill at the event due to a sweltering heat wave, with others going to the on-site hospital for issues such as skin rashes, sunburn and bug bites.
On Sunday alone, nearly 1,300 people visited the on-site hospital, according to Kim Hyun-sook, chairman of the jamboree’s organizing committee, and the gender equality and family minister.
South Korea has issued heat wave warnings across most of the country since late July, with temperatures expected to rise to 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) in some regions on Monday, according to the Korean Meteorological Agency.
And there were other complaints too, with anxious parents sharing online what their children had been reporting from the campsite – such as not having enough food, sleeping gear or even beds.
Organizers announced a series of new measures on Friday to improve the situation, such as increasing the number of cleaning staff seven-fold to more than 500.
Over the weekend, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered authorities to send air-conditioned buses to the site for additional shelter from the heat, and called for an “all-out effort” to maintain hygiene at the campsite to prevent food poisoning.
But it was too late to assuage concerns from other countries’ leaders and campers’ families overseas. Over the weekend, large contingents of scouts from the United States, Britain and Singapore pulled out of the event, further fueling calls to end the jamboree early.
The US contingent said it would move its campers to the US Army Garrison Humphreys before flying them home on August 25, Reuters reported.
Matt Hyde, chief executive of Scouts UK, said they had already relocated 4,500 members of the British contingent from the jamboree venue to hotel rooms in Seoul.
“The reasons why we have taken that decision is we were concerned about young people and adult volunteer safety,” he said in a video posted to the Scouts UK’s website. He cited what he said was the poor sanitation conditions in the camp, concerns about food and access to medical services, as well as limited measures in place to cope with the “punishingly hot” weather.
“Those four areas gave us concerns about whether young people and adult volunteers were safe,” he added.
Hyde said scout activities would continue over the coming days.
“The people of Seoul have just been incredible… Last night a local football team reached out and offered us 4,000 tickets,” he added.