All magic is suddenly gone. No mage can sling sorcery anymore. This upsets all empires and civilizations. It is soon discovered though, trough the combined work of mystics, scholars and dreams, that all the magic has been drawn into a single orb in a vast tower located at one of the poles. Whoever gets there first wins the greatest price in history, access to all the magic in the world. But who owns the tower?
The desert is a curse from the Water God upon the wicked people who live in the South.
Said people offended the Water God in some way, and so the Water God placed water-trappers, bizarre, water-sucking beings, in the soil, and within years, the wilderness became a desert.
Thus, the desert folk shamans have special powers that allow them to find water-trappers so that they can be dug up and their water harvested.