Manila - With substantial progress in opening up airports and clear roads in typhoon-hit regions of the Philippines, United  Nations agencies and partners are scaling up their support of Government efforts to provide relief, but a major fuel shortage is hampering  access to millions of affected people. “That logistical effort has been the principal focus of humanitarian colleagues on the ground to open up those routes and they have made very substantial progress,” John Ging, Director of the Operational Division  at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told reporters at UN Headquarters in New York.

“Overcoming the obstacles of the roads being destroyed, and communication networks being damaged that all the combination together is really finally coming together,” he noted, adding that the humanitarian community found itself in “a wasteland” earlier in the week.

The death toll stands at 3,600 people, according to the latest figures from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council of the Philippines, Ging said. That figure is expected to rise given the quickly changing context on the ground and the numbers still missing.

During the briefing, Ging apologized for a discrepancy in the reported death toll which OCHA had said on Thursday was 4,460. That figure was based on estimates and not actual confirmed deaths. Overall, more than 13 million people have been affected by the crisis.  At least 287,000 homes have been destroyed displacing some 1.9 million people who are taking refuge at over 1,100 evacuation centres across the country, he noted.

Fresh and clean water, sanitation, food, and shelter remain the top priorities. The Government, meanwhile, is focusing on regaining control of law and order after reports of violent attacks and looting.

“In the affected areas, we are very concerned about those who are most vulnerable, particularly women and children,” Ging said.

Also speaking to reporters, Ted Chaiban, Director of Emergency Programmes at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said some five million children are believed to be affected by the Typhoon Haiyan. “It is clear that much more needs to be done,” Chaiban said, “but we’re starting to see a turning of a corner.”

Despite significant risks that remain, he said it is important to start thinking of recovery and reconstruction so that children in Tacloban and other affected areas can be reunited with their families, return to schools and a sense of normalcy.

Of the requested $301 million flash appeal launched on Tuesday, already $72 million has been received, Ging said, with an additional $153 million donated and a separate $104 million registered in pledges but not yet assigned.