In the Soviet Union massive amounts of water were diverted for irrigation of cotton and the lake suddenly began to shrink dramatically. Soviet planners found cotton to be the perfect candidate for export in the Aral Sea region, being often refered to as white gold. The Kara Kum Canal opened in 1956, diverting more water from the Amu Darya into the desert of Turkmenistan and millions of hectares of land came under irrigation after 1960. The entire region's once prosperous fishing industry has been essentially destroyed, bringing unemployment and economic hardship. By the 1980s commercial fish was eliminated entirely, which in effect shut down over 60,000 jobs. In addition to the water problem, the soil also became contaminated because of the large amount of pesticides used and biological weapons tests conducted on the site. Read more about the disaster consequences here.