The Water-Climate Nexus: Greening Deserts and Cities

Greening the deserts and cities are crucial for people’s wellbeing, alleviation of poverty and mitigation of climate change. Large-scale and long-term greening of the landscape whether in deserts or urban areas is a major challenge in many parts of the world. Though the ongoing threats of climate change there are successful examples of scaling-up and scaling-out the greening of deserts and cities.

This might seem as a paradox, difficult and even impossible mission, how is it possible to green the landscape under an ongoing crisis of climate where the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere is projected to increase more than 1.5 degrees Celsius in the near future. But it isn’t at all a paradox as such a scenario depends on the first hand on how to get the water to remain in the top surface layer of soils at the earth’s surface, i.e. to let the water to residence there for relatively longer time being bound in soil matrices and vegetations. It is a matter of getting the right balance between saving the water in soils and loosing it to the atmosphere by evaporation or the underlying soils by percolation. This is indeed the core essence of both mitigating the climate change and at the same time greening the landscape of the earth’s surface. However, this will still be possible and feasible as long as we don’t surpass the tipping points of the global water cycle that allows this equilibrium to take place on large and long-time scales. This is imperative and mandatory to mitigate the climate change in many parts of the world.

China has realized the importance to promote its ecological progress as being of vital importance to the people’s wellbeing and China’s future. Nearly 30 years ago, or more, the Kubuqi Desert in Inner Mongolia, i.e. the seventh largest desert in China, was a barren land with no water, electricity, or future. However, Elion Resources Group (ELION) has successfully afforested an area of over 6,000 square kilometers by means of technological innovation, leading to a 95 percent decrease in sand-dust weather and an increase by six times in precipitation in Kubuqi. This has also been a major step for alleviation of poverty in the region. During the process of ecosystem restoration it has been an industrial development simultaneously driven by desertification control and promotion of several government support to integrate diverse corporate commercial investments with combined market-oriented participation by farmers and herdsmen.

Sustainable developments is indeed a development with an emphasis on environmental and ecological improvements which resulted in transforming the vast areas of the Kubuqi Desert from being a “Sea of Death” to a “Green Economy Oasis” as we have it today. It is also a major shift towards a circular economy driven by sustainable and resilient circular agriculture technology for better environment and ecology with financial benefits and wellbeing to local communities and residents. The right strategies, persistent and resilient efforts allowed to successfully turn the vast expanse of dry and loose sand into wealth and prosper landscape for millions of people along with greener and healthy living environments.

After more than three decades of efforts and innovation, the process of desertification has been reversed and water returned back to land after centuries of ‘mismanaged’ animal grazing that had denuded the area of almost all vegetation and water where the local population existed in isolated poverty. Such large-scale and long-term transformation of barren sand-dunes into green oases can offer lasting solutions to desertification worldwide. Indeed, China is one of the most severely afflicted deserts in the world. By the end of the 20th century, China’s deserts were expanding at a combined annual rate of 10,400 sq km but now they are shrinking at a rate of 2,424 sq km per year. This is while the deserts and desertified landscape worldwide continue to expand by 70,000 sq km annually.

“Deserts should not be seen as a problem, but as an opportunity for change. Taking care of the desert and making it greener can lift people out of poverty, provide prosperity and help to develop areas,” says Wang Yujie, deputy director of the China National Sand Control and Desert Industry Society (; The transformation of the Kubuqi desert to green land, changed also the life of the farmers and herdsmen from being plagued by violent sandstorms causing serious shortages of water and electricity, also resulting in poor basic living infrastructure including the lack of roads for transportation. As in many other deserts in the world the local people could hardly survive in sandy-dunes with miserable and poor living conditions where animals and cattle are forced to die from starvation and from being so thirsty in the cruel nature of the desert.

Singapore has also successfully turned their cities to green-living conditions though the complete lack of fresh-water resources as is the case in desert lands. The entire land of Singapore is transformed to sustainable, resilient and smart living environments relying primarily and totally on renewables from solar-energy and the continuous recycling of renewable water resources. China and Singapore, and to lesser extent the GCC countries, demonstrated that modern technology can turn uninhabitable landscapes to friendly and lovely living environments (

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