BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – Former President Clinton on Monday visited the Indonesian city hit hardest by the Dec. 26 tsunami (search), trying to jump-start efforts to rebuild the stricken region.
Clinton, who was recently named U.N. special envoy for tsunami recovery, was in Banda Aceh (search) as part of a four-day tour to ensure that aid is being distributed fairly and efficiently, and to keep the world's attention on tsunami recovery.
He arrived from the Maldives (search) where on Saturday he cancelled a visit of devastated areas. Some officials blamed the weather while others said the former president, who had heart bypass surgery in September, was exhausted. Aides said the rest of his trip would continue on schedule.
Clinton's visit to Aceh province comes at a time when frustration here is running high. Many people left homeless by the catastrophe are still waiting for the government and international aid agencies to begin building houses, schools and roads.
During his daylong visit, Clinton was expected to meet with United Nations staff, Indonesian officials in charge of the rebuilding as well as a group of corporate executives looking to play a role in the effort.
Security was extremely tight and the airport room where the meetings were to take place was sealed off from the public and the media. The former president was also expected to visit a site in Aceh province, but because of security concerns, the United Nations refused to disclose the exact location.
The earthquake and tsunami killed more than 176,000 people in 11 countries, and left about 50,000 missing and hundreds of thousands homeless.
Indonesia suffered the worst losses, with a death toll of 128,000 people in Aceh and half-million left homeless. An earthquake on the nearby island of Nias in March added to the region's woes, killing another 900 people and leaving tens of thousands homeless.
In Sri Lanka (search), Clinton backed the president's proposal for the government and Tamil rebels to jointly distribute foreign aid to victims of the tsunami. On his visit to the Maldives, Clinton said he was trying to "get commitments from donors to fill the gaps, particularly in water and sanitation" and pledged to do what he can to "restore tourism and diversify the economy."
The Maldives needs $406 million for reconstruction over the next three years, but has so far only received $79 million in aid.
The government says donors may be ignoring the Maldives because its tsunami death toll was much lower than that of other countries. A total of 82 people died when the huge waves crashed into the nation of about 1,200 low-lying islands off southern India, while another 26 remain missing and are presumed dead.
Yet the tsunami affected one-third of the nation's 290,000 people and only nine of its 199 inhabited islands were spared the destructive force of the giant waves. The tourism industry, the Maldives' biggest moneymaker, was devastated as vacationers shunned the archipelago's scenic beaches.