Some 71 economists, including Nobel prize winners, ask Washington to return $7 billion to Kabul, saying over half of the poor country's population faces acute food insecurity and three million children are at risk of malnutrition.

"Seventy percent of Afghan households are unable to meet their basic needs," economists tell US. (AP)

Several dozen prominent US and international economists have urged the United States to release Afghanistan's $7 billion reserves that Washington froze after the Taliban took over control of the South Asian country a year ago.

"We are deeply concerned by the compounding economic and humanitarian catastrophes unfolding in Afghanistan, and, in particular, by the role of US policy in driving them," seventy-one economists and development experts said on Wednesday in a letter to US President Joe Biden and US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

"Without access to its foreign reserves, the central bank of Afghanistan cannot carry out its normal, essential functions," they wrote.

"Without a functioning central bank, the economy of Afghanistan has, predictably, collapsed."

The signatories included Nobel economics prize winners Joseph Stiglitz and Yanis Varoufakis, who served as Greece's minister of finance when the country was negotiating with creditors after the 2008 economic collapse.

READ MORE: US, Taliban discuss foreign reserves, aid for earthquake-hit Afghanistan

'It belongs to Afghan people'

In the letter, they argued the United States could not justify holding onto the reserves, which it froze in American banks as the prior Washington-backed government in Kabul collapsed allowing the Taliban to take control in August 2021.

The economists said the plunge in economic activity and the sharp cuts to foreign aid by previous supporters of the country after the US military withdrawal have sent the Afghan economy into a tailspin.

"Seventy percent of Afghan households are unable to meet their basic needs," they wrote. 

"Some 22.8 million people –– over half the population –– face acute food insecurity, and three million children are at risk of malnutrition."

This is worsened by the refusal of the US to return the funds, as well as $2 billion blocked by Britain, Germany, and the United Arab Emirates, they said.

"These reserves were critical to the functioning of the Afghan economy, in particular, to manage the money supply, to stabilise the currency and to pay for the imports –– chiefly food and oil –– on which Afghanistan relies," they wrote.

The economists said a recent US offer to give the Taliban access to half the money by setting up a trust with international oversight was not enough.

"By all rights, the full $7 billion belong to the Afghan people," they said.

"Returning anything less than the full amount undermines the recovery of a devastated economy."

READ MORE: US urged to return Afghan foreign funds as quake survivors wait for aid

Source: AFP