08/12/2011 09:05 am ET Updated Oct 12, 2011

Somalia Faces Cholera Epidemic: World Health Organization

GENEVA (AP) — World Health Organization officials say famine-hit Somalia faces a cholera epidemic as dirty water and poor sanitation are leading to an increase in outbreaks of the disease.

WHO public health adviser Dr. Michel Yao told reporters in Geneva Friday that the number of cases has risen sharply this year, with 60 percent of 30 random lab samples taken from 4,272 people in the capital Mogadishu suffering acute watery diarrhea testing positive.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said last week that diarrhea is on the rise in Somalia, with 77 percent of cases reported in Mogadishu so far afflicting children younger than 5-years old.

Yao said there is a "high risk" of the disease spreading quickly due to water and sanitation issues "so we can say we have an epidemic."