03/31/2013 02:16 EDT | Updated 05/31/2013 05:12 EDT

Canada's pulling out of drought convention disappointing

A Mauritanian man living in Montreal dedicated to raising awareness about the desertification of his native country is disappointed Canada has pulled out of a United Nations convention that fights drought.

Atigh Ould, now the owner of a Mile End restaurant, grew up a nomad in Mauritania, a country on the northwestern coast of Africa.

He often had to travel great distances to find water, and remembers aid coming from Canada during particularly bad droughts.

And so last week’s news that the Conservative government had pulled out of the convention is disheartening for him.

“If you don’t have water, you don’t have a life. You don’t exist at all,” Atigh said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week that less than one-fifth of the $350,000 Canada contributed went to programming.

"This particular organization spends less than 20 per cent — 18 per cent — of the funds that we send it are actually spent on programming. The rest goes to various bureaucratic measures. That's not an effective way to spend taxpayers' money," he said.

Mauritania is one of the world’s poorest countries and nearly three-quarters of it is desert or semidesert.

Severe and extended drought since the 1960s means the desert is expanding.

Since moving to Canada, Ould has campaigned for greater access to water for family and friends back home by launching a program to run Mauritanian well pumps on solar power.

He’s been trying to defend Canada to people back home via social media, but said Canada’s image has taken a hit abroad.