Abstract The 1998 flood in Bangladesh caused a shortfall of 2.2 million tonnes (mill.t) in the rice production and threatened the food security of tens of millions of households. Despite the best efforts of donors and the government, the public distribution of rice and wheat was only 188,000 t more than originally planned for July 1998 to April 1999. However, a major food crisis was averted as private imports, made possible by trade liberalisation in the early 1990s, stabilised market prices and supplies. The government’s direct distribution programs, though small compared to private imports, nonetheless increased access to food by poor households. Household survey data indicate that immediate relief efforts were well targeted to flood-affected households, as were transfers from NGOs. Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF), a medium-term program, was not targeted well to households directly exposed to the flood, though the program was relatively well targeted to poor households. More broadly, the Bangladesh experience with the 1998 flood shows that in a liberalised trade regime, where private imports respond to price signals, food aid’s contribution to the total availability of food may be minimal. However, foreign assistance in kind or in cash, can provide resources for subsidised, targeted distribution to food-insecure households — assistance not possible otherwise under tight government budget constraints.