In the last few years, insecurity for relief workers has become a matter of great concern and a central issue in aid policy debates. Explanation for such a widespread anxiety is the claim that international humanitarian organizations are facing a new type of threat, while operating in increasingly hostile environments. This article explores the construction of humanitarian insecurity as a new and growing threat. Drawing on historical material, the authors suggest that the departure from 'the past' is not as pronounced as it is suggested by experts and commentators on this issue, and that the perceived deterioration of operating environments is questionable. The article concludes that the tendency to report humanitarian insecurity in catastrophic rather than analytical terms can create more problems than resolve them, in effect deepening the conditions for some of the challenges that humanitarian actors face today. Abstract published by arrangement with Taylor and Francis.