WHO voices concern over spread of disease in Gaza

Palestinians fleeing north Gaza move southward, in the central Gaza Strip

GENEVA (Reuters) -The World Health Organization said on Friday it was very worried about the spread of disease in Gaza as weeks of Israeli bombardments have led to the population crowding into shelters with scarce food and clean water.

"We are extremely concerned about the spread of disease when the winter season arrives," said Richard Peeperkorn, WHO Representative in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

He said that more than 70,000 cases of acute respiratory infections and over 44,000 cases of diarrhoea had been recorded, figures higher significantly higher than expected.

WHO has previously warned of "worrying trends" in the spread of disease in Gaza, where bombardments and a ground offensive have disrupted the health system, access to clean water and caused people to crowd into shelters.

The start of the rainy season and the possibility of flooding has also increased fears that the densely populated enclave's sewage system will be overwhelmed and disease will spread.

The absence of fuel already has forced the shutdown of sewage pumping stations and desalination plants, increasing the risk of water contamination and the outbreak of disease.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Friday that about 813,000 internally displaced people are staying in at least 154 shelters run by UNRWA, the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency.

"Overcrowding is leading to the spread of disease, including acute respiratory illness and diarrhea, raising environmental and health concerns," OCHA warned.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Hugh Lawson)