After more than a decade of meeting the designated objective of increasing productivity in agriculture, the South West coastal polders of Bangladesh have ended up as different man-made disasters. The failure of the polders to deliver the intended outcome is basically attributed to the lack of understanding of their hydro-morphological characteristics, inadequacy in their operation and maintenance, and failure to take into account their social relationship and culture roles. Changes in socioeconomic settings have also forced changes in the designated functions of the polders, but now the emerging context of climate change has become a major issue in rationalizing the coastal polders. In this context, this study is an attempt to review the historical and ongoing process of rationalization of the South West coastal polders, revealing that it is essential to take an integrated view of the hydrologic cycle and the interactions of human interventions. Finally, this paper recommends that an extended cost–benefit analysis with a multi-objective focus or a multi-criteria analysis, if monetizing is not possible, should be an option in rationalizing this multi-functional infrastructure. Proper macro-planning would require development of an institution capable of dealing with a task which is multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary in nature.