The Zimbabwean government has said that 1.5 million of its population are in immediate need of food aid, according to a newspaper report.

The Washington Post said that the country's drought-stricken southern provinces were in particular need. The newspaper cited a report in the government controlled Herald newspaper in Harare that the Zimbabwean authorities planned to spend some US$8 million to buy and distribute more than 15,000 tons of corn meal.

According to the Herald, Ignatius Chombo, Zimbabwe's acting minister of public service, labour and social welfare, said needy households would each receive a 110-pound bag of corn meal, as well as about US$5 in cash to help buy food.

The Washington Post quoted a claim by the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party, that food aid was being used to buy support, especially in rural areas. "Government is already saying to these communities, should you vote against government, should you vote for opposition, you won't get food," said MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi.