… About 8,000 fall sick due to heat wave – no Bhutanese scout has fallen victim yet

YK Poudel

The 25th World Scout Jamboree (WSJ) which started on August 1 in South Korea grapples with a heat wave causing illness to about 8,000 scouts. No Bhutanese scouts were sick as of yesterday, according to officials.

Ten scouts from Bhutan (nine scouts and one adult leader escort) are taking part in the 12-day global youth camp. The WSJ ends on August 12.

An increasing number of ill children prompts alarmed parents and worldwide observers to bombard the event’s social media with anxious inquiries, criticism towards organizers, and impassioned pleas for its immediate cancellation – expressed in diverse languages.

The jamboree came as South Korea recorded consistently high temperatures of up to 35 degrees Celsius triggering nationwide heat waves warnings and posing a major challenge for jamboree organizers.

Secretary general of the organising committee, Choi Chang-haeng said that the jamboree is ramping up its medical staff, pest control personnel, the number of portable toilets and food supplies. “The number of cleaning staff – previously just 70 for the entire scouts – has been increased to more than 500.”

“Organizers have also adjusted scheduled events, suspending activities requiring significant physical activities and replacing them with indoor programmes. We will ensure the safe and stable operation of this event until its conclusion,” he said.

Nine Bhutanese scouts and an adult leader (escort) are taking part in the 12-day global youth camp

Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol, also visited the jamboree site to ensure all scouts are safe. The president said that an “unlimited supply” of large air-conditioned buses and refrigerator trucks to the campsite on Monday. He also ordered organizers to improve the quality of food provided and to “immediately resolve” issues occurring at the site.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo told the Cabinet meeting to approve spending US dollar 4.6 million to support the jamboree. “The government will ensure that the jamboree can end safely amid the heat waves.”

About 130 cooling buses and 10 refrigerator trucks have reached the site.

“Each scout is given bottles of cold water, cooling masks, hats, sunscreen, ice packs and salt pills,” an official said.

One of the participants said that for many contingents, the event for yesterday was called off due to the intense heat and rising number of scouts falling sick.

Many scouts, he said,  pitched their accommodation tents on plastic pallets due to Korea’s strong summer monsoon flooding the SaeManGeum site – although the land has got better now.

Pema Tshewang, adult scout leader from Bhutan said that none of the scouts from Bhutan have fallen sick as of now. “Although the heatwave is high with many scouts falling sick, we are trying to adjust and doing well as of now. Moreover, the management has been concerned with proper care and guidance since the beginning.”

“Our contingent did not have any issues for which we continued with the scheduled activity when other contingents were facing some challenges. We are updating our NSO regarding the event as and when we get time,” he said.

According to the report on Thursday, 250 reported skin rashes, 138 had a heat-related illness, and 386 had bug bites – but none were in a critical condition. There is a fear of a Covid-19 outbreak as 28 participants tested positive.

According to the officials, UK and USA scout contingent with over 4,000 participants were set to leave the venue of the international event yesterday due to extreme heat at SaeManGuem and stay at Seoul until their early departure from the WSJ.

The heat wave that picked up late in July has reported 1,191 people suffering from heat-related illness and 16 deaths in the country.

The event at SaeManGeum brought together about 43,232 scouts aged between 14 and 18 mostly, along with adult leaders from 158 national scout organizations. It is spread across 8.8 square kilometres. 

The theme this year is “Draw your Dream” – which provides an opportunity for the scouts to express their ideas and opinions.

It’s the second time Korea has hosted the event after 32 years since 1991, which is held every four years. The venue took six years of preparation.