Despite heatwave warnings, South Korea presses on with world scout jamboree

Despite heatwave warnings, South Korea presses on with world scout jamboree

By Hyunsu Yim

BUAN, South Korea (Reuters) -South Korea decided on Saturday to press on with hosting the World Scout Jamboree, despite warnings about the dangers posed by the extreme heat the country is enduring, and the U.S. and British contingents pulling out a week early.

Tens of thousands of scouts, aged between 14-18 years, had flocked to Saemangeum, near the town of Buan on South Korea's west coast, where temperatures have hit 33 Celsius (91.4F).

Hundreds of participants have already fallen ill due to the searing temperatures, prompting complaints from parents over the safety of their children.

The government promised more water trucks, air-conditioned spaces and medics in an attempt to save the event, which opened on Aug.1 and was set to run till Aug.12.

But the organisers suffered a fresh blow on Saturday when the U.S. and Singapore decided to follow British scouts lead by moving elsewhere.

As of Saturday there had been 42,593 participants from over 150 countries camping at the site in Saemangeum.

South Korea's Prime Minister Han Duck-soo told a briefing that having consulted with other countries, his government had decided along with the Korea Scout Association that the jamboree should continue.

A day earlier, the World Organization of the Scout Movement said they should consider "alternative options to end the event earlier than scheduled", and support participants until they can return to their home countries.

Kristin Sayers from the U.S. state of Virginia said her 17-year-old son Corey's dream to take part in the jamboree, at a cost of $6,500, had turned into a "nightmare".

"He's very aware of how much money that is and the sacrifices we made as a family to send him. We could've done so much with that money," she told Reuters by video link.

In an effort to calm the situation, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered officials to roll out tour programmes showcasing Korean culture and nature in Seoul and other cities, available for all scouts.

Some countries, including the Philippines and Argentina, have said they would remain at the campsite despite challenges from extreme weather.

"We are seeing around the site some improvements," Marina Rustan, president of Argentina Scout Association, told a press conference. "We had the word of the leadership of the government that things will be improved."

The U.S. contingent will take part in a jamboree programme on Saturday before moving to U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys near the jamboree site on Sunday, according to an email sent to parents that cited the difficulties posed by the "ongoing extreme weather".

Britain, the largest grouping at the jamboree, said on Friday they were moving to hotels in Seoul for the rest of their stay, to alleviate pressure on the site, and were seen leaving the campsite on Saturday morning.

(Reporting by Hyunsu Yim; Additional Reporting by Minwoo Park; Editing by Tom Hogue, William Mallard and Simon Cameron-Moore)