With jamboree over, it’s time to ask hard questions about responsibility for fiasco

Posted on : 2023-08-14 16:52 KST Modified on : 2023-08-14 17:11 KST
Months of pledges of “full support” and a “safe jamboree” served little value when things went awry
Scouts carrying backpacks walk to a bus to take them away from the Saemangeum jamboree site on Aug. 8. (Baek So-ah/The Hankyoreh)
Scouts carrying backpacks walk to a bus to take them away from the Saemangeum jamboree site on Aug. 8. (Baek So-ah/The Hankyoreh)

The train wreck that was the World Scout Jamboree 2023 came to an end on Saturday. Let’s go back four, five months in time.

On March 29, President Yoon Suk-yeol declared that he would provide his “full support” for the jamboree in Saemangeum. On March 3, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo called this year’s jamboree a “good opportunity to show South Korea’s potential and status,” asking all governmental departments for cooperation.

The government stressed that it would organize a “safe jamboree.” In March and July, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety conducted a joint governmental safety inspection. Minister Kim Hyun-sook of the Gender Equality and Family Ministry, the main governmental department handling the organization of the jamboree, stated that “the most important thing as we prepared for the World Scout Jamboree is safety above all” on July 25, one week before the jamboree commenced.

Like this, the government promised “unsparing support” for safety, but it was all just empty words. Though it promoted the event with zeal, preparations were subpar. The camp site where scouts from around the world set up their tents were riddled with mud and puddles. Despite concerns about the lack of preparations for potential heat waves, there were only 57 vine tunnels and 1,722 shaded rest areas in the entire camp site, as big as 1,200 soccer fields combined (approximately 8.8 square kilometers, or 3.4 square miles). The vines making up the vine tunnels weren’t even fully grown, providing inadequate shade.

Considering that there were roughly 43,000 participants from 150 countries, the existing facilities were wholly insufficient to withstand the heat wave. Even though heat wave warnings were issued in Buan, North Jeolla Province, starting on July 28, no additional measures were taken, including the placement of air-conditioned buses.

Only after hundreds of jamboree participants complained of heat-related symptoms every day and unsanitary living conditions such as the provision of rotten eggs and poor hygiene in toilets became an issue did the government devote its full energy to remedying the situation at the jamboree. On Aug. 6, 262 air-conditioned buses and 69 canopies were additionally installed.

Initially there were only around 70 workers taking care of the bathroom and shower facilities, but that number was increased to 1,400. Not only that, but 200 or so large fans were supplied to the area. If they were perfectly capable of providing enough staff and much-needed items, why didn’t they do so in the first place?

Lack of preparation also led to slap-dash execution of the event.

On Aug. 6, the day the K-pop concert was originally scheduled, Park Bo-gyoon, the minister of culture, sports, and tourism, stated that the concert had been postponed to Aug. 11 and also announced a change in venue: it was now to be held at Jeonju World Cup Stadium.

That decision resulted in the cancellation of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC’s home game, which was scheduled to take place on Aug.11.

However, the government issued an emergency evacuation plan due to Typhoon Khanun’s projected trajectory on the Korean Peninsula, meaning that the venue was changed once again as the jamboree participants left the campsite on Aug. 8.

Even the chaos induced by hapless adults couldn’t stop the youth from finding joy.

An official from the Korea Scout Association had the following to say about the jamboree participants: “They were having a lot of fun and enjoying themselves. Each subcamp had a small performance area, and the youth from Africa, Southeast Asia, and other countries wore traditional clothing such as turbans and sang traditional dances and songs. Some of them brought and played ukuleles. The Korean youth also got along well with their friends from other countries, exchanging banners, badges, and traditional fans. It was very nice to see, and that’s why the whole situation felt even more unfortunate, because they could have socialized in a better environment.”

The adults who only spoke empty promises should reflect on their words. On Wednesday, the National Assembly’s Public Administration and Security Committee will summon Lee Sang-min, the minister of the interior and safety, to appear before the committee for an inquiry.

Whether the government did a proper safety check beforehand and why the “full support” the president promised came so late should be thoroughly examined.

By Oh Se-jin, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

button that move to original korean article (클릭시 원문으로 이동하는 버튼)

Related stories